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The teaching of literature, if it is to have virility, must be above all the teaching of ideas. ~ Irving Babbitt
Many psychologists have treated literature as a whole as a mere vehicle of withdrawal from the harsh realities of existence: forgetful of the fact that literature of the first order, so far from being a mere pleasure device, is a supreme attempt to face and encompass reality. ~ Lewis Mumford
You see all these white heroes, everybody is white, all the literature classes—your Shakespeare, your poetry — everybody’s white, and you start to feel less than. ~ John Leguizamo

Literature is a body of written works.



  • I got a glimpse into the uses of a certain kind of criticism this past summer at a writers' conference – into how the avocation of assessing the failures of better men can be turned into a comfortable livelihood, providing you back it up with a Ph.D. I saw how it was possible to gain a chair of literature on no qualification other than persistence in nipping the heels of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck.
  • The question I propose to consider is in what way one may justify the study of English on cultural and disciplinary, and not merely on sentimental or utilitarian, grounds. My own conviction is that if English is to be thus justified it must be primarily by what I am terming the discipline of ideas.
As a matter of fact one hears it commonly said nowadays that literature may be rescued from the philologist on the one hand and the mere dilettante on the other by an increase of emphasis on its intellectual content, that the teaching of literature, if it is to have virility, must be above all the teaching of ideas.
  • Irving Babbitt, "English and the Discipline of Ideas " (1920), Irving Babbitt: Representative Writings (1981), p. 63
  • While the guardians of “literary” fiction still give each other prizes and writers can still achieve stardom and create good work, the fact remains that it is a movement that has lost all its creative force as a movement.
  • Republic of letters.
    • Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones (1749), Book XIV, Chapter I.
    • Quoting a translation of Molière's 1664 "La république des lettres" (The republic of letters), see below.
  • I don't think literature will be purged until its philosophic pretentiousness is extruded, and I shant live to see that purge, nor perhaps when it has happened will anything survive.
  • It is now only in letters I write what I feel: not in literature any more, and I seldom say it, because I keep trying to be amusing.
  • Don't you give up on this [library] card. Because books can be solid gold. Yeah, the great ones have gotten us through the nights for centuries. Just give a writer an hour to hook you and if he can't wish him the best of luck and find someone else.
  • I remember some artists who said this world isn't worth anything, that it is a pigsty, that we are going nowhere, that God is dead, and all those things. Bad literature is this. To expose your navel, to tell how you drank your morning coffee amid general disgust, with everything around you rotting. While the world is dying, I drink my coffee. Or I perform my little sex acts. This is old-fashioned. One must cross this neurotic curtain.
  • Today’s literature is prescriptions written by patients.
    • Karl Kraus, No Compromise (New York: 1977), p. 229
  • Many psychologists have treated literature as a whole as a mere vehicle of withdrawal from the harsh realities of existence: forgetful of the fact that literature of the first order, so far from being a mere pleasure device, is a supreme attempt to face and encompass reality-an attempt beside which a busy working life involves a shrinkage and represents a partial retreat.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934), Chapter 6, § 9, p. 314-315
  • La république des lettres.
    • The republic of letters.
    • Molière, Le Mariage forcé, scene 6 (1664).
  • Literature is news that stays news.
  • The quest to discover a definition for "literature" is a road that is much traveled, though the point of arrival, if ever reached, is seldom satisfactory. Most attempted definitions are broad and vague, and they inevitably change over time. In fact, the only thing that is certain about defining literature is that the definition will change. Concepts of what is literature change over time as well.
    • Simon Ryan; Delyse Ryan. "What is Literature?". Foundation: Fundamentals of Literature and Drama. Australian Catholic University. Archived from the original on 20 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  • When people cannot write good literature it is perhaps natural that they should lay down rules how good literature should be written.
  • During the last quarter of a century all the authority associated with the function of spiritual guidance ... has seeped down into the lowest publications. ... Between a poem by Valéry and an advertisement for a beauty cream promising a rich marriage to anyone who used it there was at no point a breach of continuity. So as a result of literature’s spiritual usurpation a beauty cream advertisement possessed, in the eyes of little village girls, the authority that was formerly attached to the words of priests.
    • Simone Weil, “Morality and literature,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 164

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical QuotationsEdit

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 461.
  • Literature is the thought of thinking Souls.
  • Literary Men are * * * a perpetual priesthood.
  • I made a compact with myself that in my person literature should stand by itself, of itself, and for itself.
  • But, indeed, we prefer books to pounds; and we love manuscripts better than florins; and we prefer small pamphlets to war horses.
  • Time the great destroyer of other men's happiness, only enlarges the patrimony of literature to its possessor.
    • Isaac D'Israeli, [The Literary Character, Illustrated by the History of Men of Genius (1795-1822), Chapter XXII.
  • Literature is an avenue to glory, ever open for those ingenious men who are deprived of honours or of wealth.
    • Isaac D'Israeli, [The Literary Character, Illustrated by the History of Men of Genius (1795-1822), Chapter XXIV.
  • Our poetry in the eighteenth century was prose; our prose in the seventeenth, poetry.
    • J. C. and A. W. Hare, Guesses at Truth.
  • The death of Dr. Hudson is a loss to the republick of letters.
    • William King, letter (Jan. 7, 1719). Same phrase occurs in the Spectator. Commonwealth of letters is used by Addison, Spectator, No. 529. Nov. 6, 1712.
  • There is first the literature of knowledge, and secondly, the literature of power. The function of the first is—to teach; the function of the second is—to move, the first is a rudder, the second an oar or a sail. The first speaks to the mere discursive understanding; the second speaks ultimately, it may happen, to the higher understanding or reason, but always through affections of pleasure and sympathy.
  • La mode d'aimer Racine passera comme la mode du café.
    • The fashion of liking Racine will pass away like that of coffee.
    • Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné, according to Voltaire, Letters (Jan. 29, 1690), who connected two remarks of hers to make the phrase; one from a letter March 16, 1679, the other, March 10, 1672. La Harpe reduced the mot to "Racine passera comme le café?"
  • We cultivate literature on a little oat-meal.
    • Sydney Smith, Lady Holland's Memoir (1855), Volume I, p. 23.
  • The great Cham of literature. [Samuel Johnson.]

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)Edit

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • A beautiful literature springs from the depth and fullness of intellectual and moral life, from an energy of thought and feeling, to which nothing, as we believe, ministers so largely as enlightened religion.
  • God be thanked for books! they are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages. Books are the true levelers. They give to all who will faithfully use them the society, the spiritual presence, of the best and greatest of our race,
  • From the hour of the invention of printing, books, and not kings, were to rule the world. Weapons forged in the mind, keen-edged, and brighter than a sunbeam, were to supplant the sword and battle-axe. Books! lighthouses built on the sea of time! Books! by whose sorcery the whole pageantry of the world's history moves in solemn procession before our eyes. From their pages great souls look down in all their grandeur, undimmed by the faults and follies of earthly existence, consecrated by time.
  • Be less concerned about the number of books you read, and more about the good use you make of them. The best of books is the Bible.
  • The great standard of literature as to purity and exactness of style is the Bible.
  • Thou mayest as well expect to grow stronger by always eating, as wiser by always reading.
  • It is right for you, young men, to enrich yourselves with the spoils of all pure literature; but he who would make a favorite of a bad book, simply because it contains a few beautiful passages, might as well caress the hand of an assassin because of the jewelry which sparkles on his fingers.


  • Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.
    • Commonly attributed to Samuel Johnson, not found in his writings or contemporary writings about him; see details

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