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Quotations from George Gordon Noel Byron


Shakespeare's name, you may depend on it, stands absurdly too high and will go down.

Letter to James Hogg (March 23, 1814)

Shelley is truth itself - and honour itself - notwithstanding his out-of-the-way notions about religion.

Letter (June 2, 1821)

A bargain is in its very essence a hostile transaction... do not all men try to abate the price of all they buy? I contend that a bargain even between brethren is a declaration of war.

Letter (July 14, 1821)

A man must serve his time to every trade
Save censure - critics all are ready made.

English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

A material resurrection seems strange and even absurd except for purposes of punishment, and all punishment which is to revenge rather than correct must be morally wrong, and when the World is at an end, what moral or warning purpose can eternal tortures answer?

Detached Thoughts, no. 96 (1821-22)

A true voluptuary will never abandon his mind to the grossness of reality. It is by exalting the earthly, the material, the physique of our pleasures, by veiling these ideas, by forgetting them altogether, or, at least, never naming them hardly to one's self, that we alone can prevent them from disgusting.

Journal entry (December 13, 1813)

All are inclined to believe what they covet, from a lottery-ticket up to a passport to Paradise.

Journal entry (November 27, 1813)

All farewells should be sudden, when forever.

Sardanapalus, in Sardanapalus, act 5, scene 1

All men are intrinsical rascals, and I am only sorry that not being a dog I can't bite them.

Letter to John Murray (October 20, 1821)

All tragedies are finish'd by a death,
All comedies are ended by a marriage.

Don Juan, canto 3, stanza 9

All who joy would win
Must share it,--Happiness was born a twin.

Don Juan, canto 2, stanza 172

America is a model of force and freedom & moderation - with all the coarseness and rudeness of its people.

Letter (October 12, 1821)

An exile, saddest of all prisoners,
Who has the whole world for a dungeon strong,
Seas, mountains, and the horizon’s verge for bars.

The Prophecy of Dante, canto 4

And yet a little tumult, now and then, is an agreeable quickener of sensation; such as a revolution, a battle, or an adventure of any lively description.

Journal entry (November 22, 1813)

As long as I retain my feeling and my passion for Nature, I can partly soften or subdue my other passions and resist or endure those of others.

Letter to author Isaac D'Israeli (June 10, 1822)

Between two worlds life hovers like a star,
'Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon's verge.

Don Juan, canto 15, stanza 99

But I hate things all fiction... there should always be some foundation of fact for the most airy fabric - and pure invention is but the talent of a liar.

Letter to John Murray (April 2, 1817)

But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.

Letter to Thomas Moore (October 28, 1815)

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.

Don Juan, canto 3, stanza 88

Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a pleasuring.

Letter (July 16, 1809)

Constancy... that small change of love, which people exact so rigidly, receive in such counterfeit coin, and repay in baser metal.

Letter to Thomas Moore (November 17, 1816)

Every day confirms my opinion on the superiority of a vicious life - and if Virtue is not its own reward I don’t know any other stipend annexed to it.

Letter (December 18, 1813)

Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.

English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast.
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

So We'll Go No More A-Roving

Friendship is Love without his wings!

L’Amitié est L’Amour Sans Ailes

He learned the arts of riding, fencing, gunnery,
And how to scale a fortress - or a nunnery.

Don Juan, canto 1, stanza 38

Her great merit is finding out mine--there is nothing so amiable as discernment.

Letter to John Murray (November 25, 1816)

I always looked to about thirty as the barrier of any real or fierce delight in the passions, and determined to work them out in the younger ore and better veins of the mine--and I flatter myself (perhaps) that I have pretty well done so--and now the dross is coming.

Letter (January 18, 1823)

I am always most religious upon a sunshiny day…

Detached Thoughts, no. 99 (1821-22)

I am as comfortless as a pilgrim with peas in his shoes - and as cold as Charity, Chastity or any other Virtue.

Letter to Annabella Milbanke (November 16, 1814)

I am so convinced of the advantages of looking at mankind instead of reading about them, and of the bitter effects of staying at home with all the narrow prejudices of an Islander, that I think there should be a law amongst us to set our young men abroad for a term among the few allies our wars have left us.

Letter to his mother (January 14, 1811)

I am sure of nothing so little as my own intentions.

Letter (January 20, 1811)

I begin to find out that nothing but virtue will do in this damned world. I am tolerably sick of vice which I have tried in its agreeable varieties, and mean on my return to cut all my dissolute acquaintance and leave off wine and 'carnal company,' and betake myself to politics and Decorum.

Letter (May 5, 1810)

I by no means rank poetry high in the scale of intelligence - this may look like affectation but it is my real opinion. It is the lava of the imagination whose eruption prevents an earthquake.

Letter to Annabella Milbanke (November 29, 1813)

I cannot help thinking that the menace of Hell makes as many devils as the severe penal codes of inhuman humanity make villains.

Detached Thoughts, no. 96 (1821-22)

I do detest everything which is not perfectly mutual.

Letter (October 21, 1813)

I have a great mind to believe in Christianity for the mere pleasure of fancying I may be damned.


I have a notion that gamblers are as happy as most people, being always excited; women, wine, fame, the table, even ambition, sate now & then, but every turn of the card & cast of the dice keeps the gambler alive - besides one can game ten times longer than one can do any thing else.

Detached Thoughts, no. 33 (1821-22)

I have always laid it down as a maxim - and found it justified by experience - that a man and a woman make far better friendships than can exist between two of the same sex - but then with the condition that they never have made or are to make love to each other.

Letter (December 1, 1822)

I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives as much as if we had never married at all.

Letter to Annabella Milbanke (December 5, 1814)

I have had, and may have still, a thousand friends, as they are called, in life, who are like one's partners in the waltz of this world - not much remembered when the ball is over.

Letter to Mary Shelley (November 16, 1822)

I have imbibed such a love for money that I keep some sequins in a drawer to count, & cry over them once a week.

Letter (January 27, 1819)

I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flatter'd its rank breath, nor bow'd
To its idolatries a patient knee.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto 3, stanza 113 (1812-18)

I have seen a thousand graves opened, and always perceived that whatever was gone, the teeth and hair remained of those who had died with them. Is not this odd? They go the very first things in youth & yet last the longest in the dust.

Letter to publisher John Murray (November 18, 1820)

I know that two and two make four - & should be glad to prove it too if I could - though I must say if by any sort of process I could convert 2 & 2 into five it would give me much greater pleasure.

Letter to Annabella Milbanke (1813)

I like his holiness [the Pope] very much, particularly since an order, which I understand he has lately given, that no more miracles shall be performed.

Quoted in Conversations on Religion with Lord Byron

I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me; and to me
High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
Of human cities torture.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto 3, stanza 72 (1812-18)

I look upon him [Shakespeare] to be the worst of models - though the most extraordinary of writers.

Letter to John Murray (July 14, 1821)

I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.

Journal entry (December 12, 1813)

I really cannot know whether I am or am not the Genius you are pleased to call me, but I am very willing to put up with the mistake, if it be one. It is a title dearly enough bought by most men, to render it endurable, even when not quite clearly made out, which it never can be till the Posterity, whose decisions are merely dreams to ourselves, has sanctioned or denied it, while it can touch us no further.

Letter to author Isaac D'Israeli (June 10, 1822)

I should like to know who has been carried off, except poor dear me - I have been more ravished myself than anybody since the Trojan war.

Letter answering accusations of debauchery (October 29, 1819)

I stood among them, but not of them; in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto 3, stanza 113 (1812-18)

I think the worst woman that ever existed would have made a man of very passable reputation - they are all better than us & their faults such as they are must originate with ourselves.

Letter to Annabella Millbanke (September 6, 1813)

I will not give way to all the Cant of Christendom. I have been cloyed with applause and sickened with abuse.

Refusing to censor Don Juan

I will work the mine of my youth to the last vein of the ore, and then--good night. I have lived, and am content.

Letter to Thomas Moore (February 2, 1818)

If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.

Journal entry (November 27, 1813)

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing... I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain.

Letter to Thomas Moore (January 2, 1821)

If we must have a tyrant, let him at least be a gentleman who has been bred to the business, and let us fall by the axe and not by the butcher's cleaver.

Letter to John Murray (February 21, 1820)

In general I do not draw well with literary men - not that I dislike them but I never know what to say to them after I have praised their last publication.

Detached Thoughts, no. 53 (1821-22)

Is there any thing beyond? - who knows? He that can’t tell. Who tells there is? He who don’t know. And when shall he know? Perhaps, when he don’t expect it, and generally when he don’t wish it. In this last respect, however, all are not alike; it depends a good deal upon education, something upon nerves and habits - but most upon digestion.

Journal entry (February 18, 1814)

It has been said that the immortality of the soul is a 'grand peut-être' - but still it is a grand one. Everybody clings to it - the stupidest, and dullest, and wickedest of human bipeds is still persuaded that he is immortal.

Journal at Ravenna (January 25, 1821)

It is not one man nor a million, but the spirit of liberty that must be preserved. The waves which dash upon the shore are, one by one, broken, but the ocean conquers nevertheless. It overwhelms the Armada, it wears out the rock. In like manner, whatever the struggle of individuals, the great cause will gather strength.

Journal at Ravenna (January 11, 1821)

It is odd but agitation or contest of any kind gives a rebound to my spirits and sets me up for a time.

Letter to Thomas Moore (March 8, 1816)

It is singular how soon we lose the impression of what ceases to be constantly before us. A year impairs, a lustre obliterates. There is little distinct left without an effort of memory, then indeed the lights are rekindled for a moment - but who can be sure that the Imagination is not the torch-bearer?

Detached Thoughts, no. 51 (1821-22)

It is the sublime of that there sort of writing; it may be bawdy, but is it not good English? It may be profligate, but is it not life, is it not the thing? Could any man have written it who has not lived in the world? and tooled in a post-chaise? in a hackney coach? in a Gondola? against a wall? in a court carriage? in a vis a vis? on a table? and under it?

About Don Juan, in a letter written from Venice (October 26, 1819)

It is true from early habit, one must make love mechanically as one swims; I was once very fond of both, but now as I never swim unless I tumble into the water, I don’t make love till almost obliged.

Letter (September 10, 1812)

It is useless to tell one not to reason but to believe - you might as well tell a man not to wake but sleep.

Detached Thoughts, no. 96 (1821-22)

It is very iniquitous to make me pay my debts - you have no idea of the pain it gives one.

Letter (October 26, 1819)

It was one of the deadliest and heaviest feelings of my life to feel that I was no longer a boy. From that moment I began to grow old in my own esteem--and in my esteem age is not estimable.

Detached Thoughts, no. 72 (1821-22)

It will be difficult for me not to make sport for the Philistines by pulling down a house or two, since when I once take pen in hand, I must say what comes uppermost, or fling it away.

Letter to John Murray (June 6, 1822)

Keep thy smooth words and juggling homilies
For those who know thee not.

Sardanapalus, in Sardanapalus, act 2, scene 1

'Let there be light!' said God, and there was light!
'Let there be blood!' says man, and there's a sea!

Don Juan, canto. 7, stanza 41

Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,
Sermons and soda-water the day after.

Don Juan, canto 2, stanza 178

Lovers may be - and indeed generally are - enemies, but they never can be friends, because there must always be a spice of jealousy and a something of Self in all their speculations.

Letter (December 1, 1822)

Man is born passionate of body, but with an innate though secret tendency to the love of Good in his main-spring of Mind. But God help us all! It is at present a sad jar of atoms.

Detached Thoughts, no. 96 (1821-22)

Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
The best of life is but intoxication.

Don Juan, canto 2, stanza 179

My attachment has neither the blindness of the beginning, nor the microscopic accuracy of the close of such liaisons.

Letter (January 10, 1820)

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of Love are gone;
The worm - the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year (1824)

My great comfort is that the temporary celebrity I have wrung from the world has been in the very teeth of all opinions and prejudices. I have flattered no ruling powers; I have never concealed a single thought that tempted me.

Letter to Thomas Moore (April 9, 1814)

My time has been passed viciously and agreeably; at thirty-one so few years months days hours or minutes remain that 'Carpe Diem' ['seize the day'] is not enough. I have been obliged to crop even the seconds—for who can trust to tomorrow?

Letter (August 20, 1819)

My turn of mind is so given to taking things in the absurd point of view, that it breaks out in spite of me every now and then.

Remark to the poet Thomas Moore

Nothing can confound
A wise man more than laughter from a dunce.

Don Juan, canto 16, stanza 88

Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure;
Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.

Don Juan, canto 13, stanza 6

Of all the horrid, hideous notes of woe,
Sadder than owl-songs or the midnight blast,
Is that portentous phrase, 'I told you so,'
Uttered by friends, those prophets of the past.

Don Juan, canto 14, stanza 50

One certainly has a soul; but how it came to allow itself to be enclosed in a body is more than I can imagine. I only know if once mine gets out, I’ll have a bit of a tussle before I let it get in again to that of any other.

Letter to Thomas Moore (April 11, 1817)

Opinions are made to be changed - or how is truth to be got at?

Letter to John Murray (May 9, 1817)

Out of chaos God made a world, and out of high passions comes a people.

Journal at Ravenna (January 5, 1821)

Posterity will ne'er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.

Epitaph for Castlereagh (1822)

Sighing that Nature formed but one such man,
And broke the die.

Monody on the Death of Sheridan

Sincerity may be humble, but she cannot be servile.

Letter to Stendhal (May 29, 1823)

Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality.
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of Joy.

The Dream

Society is now one polished horde,
Formed of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.

Don Juan, canto 13, stanza 95

Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of life.

Manfred, in Manfred, act 1 scene 1

Such is Truth! Men dare not look her in the face, except by degrees: they mistake her for a Gorgon, instead of knowing her to be a Minerva.

Letter to author Isaac D'Israeli (June 10, 1822)

Such writing is a sort of mental masturbation. ... I don’t mean that he is indecent but viciously soliciting his own ideas into a state which is neither poetry nor anything else but a Bedlam vision produced by raw pork and opium.

About John Keats in a letter to John Murray (November 9, 1820)

The Cardinal is at his wit's end - it is true that he had not far to go.

Letter to John Murray (July 22, 1820)

The drying up a single tear has more
Of honest fame, than shedding seas of gore.

Don Juan, canto 8, stanza 3

The fact is that my wife if she had common sense would have more power over me than any other whatsoever, for my heart always alights upon the nearest perch.

Letter (April 30, 1814)

The fact is, riches are power, and poverty is slavery all over the earth, and one sort of establishment is no better, nor worse, for a people than another.

Journal entry (January 16, 1814)

The 'good old times' - all times when old are good.

The Age of Bronze

The great object in life is Sensation - to feel that we exist, even though in pain; it is this 'craving void' which drives us to gaming, to battle, to travel, to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment.

Letter to Annabella Millbanke (September 6, 1813)

The king-times are fast finishing. There will be blood shed like water, and tears like mist; but the peoples will conquer in the end. I shall not live to see it, but I foresee it.

Journal at Ravenna (January 13, 1821)

The lapse of ages changes all things--time, language, the earth, the bounds of the sea, the stars of the sky, and every thing 'about, around, and underneath' man, except man himself.

Journal entry (January 9, 1821)

The mind can make
Substance, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.

The Dream

The reading or non-reading a book will never keep down a single petticoat.

Letter, after Don Juan was branded unsuitable for women (October 29, 1819)

The reason that adulation is not displeasing is that, though untrue, it shows one to be of consequence enough, in one way or other, to induce people to lie.

Journal entry (November 28, 1813)

There is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state?

Letter to Thomas Moore (July 5, 1821)

There is something Pagan in me that I cannot shake off. In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.

Letter (December 4, 1811)

There is, in fact, no law or government at all; and it is wonderful how well things go on without them.

Letter to Thomas Moore, written at Ravenna (January 2, 1821)

There’s nought, no doubt, so much the spirit calms
As rum and true religion.

Don Juan, canto 2, stanza 34

This place is the Devil, or at least his principal residence, they call it the University, but any other appellation would have suited it much better, for study is the last pursuit of the society; the Master eats, drinks, and sleeps, the Fellows drink, dispute and pun, the employments of the undergraduates you will probably conjecture without my description.

Letter (November 23, 1805)

Though sages may pour out their wisdom's treasure,
There is no sterner moralist than pleasure.

Don Juan, canto 3, stanza 65

To be the first man - not the Dictator, not the Sylla, but the Washington or the Aristides, the leader in talent and truth - is next to the Divinity!

Journal entry (November 23, 1813)

To withdraw myself from myself... has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all.

Journal entry (November 27, 1813)

War's a brain-spattering, windpipe-slitting art.

Don Juan, canto 9, stanza 4

We are all selfish & I no more trust myself than others with a good motive.

Letter (September 28, 1813)

We don't arrive at it [Truth] by standing on one leg or on the first day of our setting out - but though we may jostle one another on the way that is no reason why we should strike or trample - elbowing's enough.

Letter to John Murray (May 9, 1817)

We have progressively improved into a less spiritual species of tenderness - but the seal is not yet fixed though the wax is preparing for the impression.

Letter (October 14, 1813)

What a strange thing is the propagation of life! A bubble of seed which may be spilt in a whore's lap, or in the orgasm of a voluptuous dream, might (for aught we know) have formed a Caesar or a Buonaparte - there is nothing remarkable recorded of their sires, that I know of.

Detached Thoughts, no. 102 (1821-22)

What an antithetical mind!--tenderness, roughness--delicacy, coarseness--sentiment, sensuality--soaring and grovelling, dirt and deity--all mixed up in that one compound of inspired clay!

Journal entry on Robert Burns (December 13, 1813)

What is the worst of woes that wait on age?
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow?
To view each loved one blotted from life’s page,
And be alone on earth, as I am now.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto 2, stanza 98 (1812-18)

What makes a regiment of soldiers a more noble object of view than the same mass of mob? Their arms, their dresses, their banners, and the art and artificial symmetry of their position and movements.

Letter to John Murray (February 7, 1821)

What men call gallantry, and gods adultery,
Is much more common where the climate’s sultry.

Don Juan, canto 1, stanza 63

What should I have known or written had I been a quiet, mercantile politician or a lord in waiting? A man must travel, and turmoil, or there is no existence.

Letter to Thomas Moore (August 31, 1820)

When Love's delirium haunts the glowing mind,
Limping Decorum lingers far behind.

Answer to Some Elegant Verses Sent by a Friend

When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), sleep, eating and swilling, buttoning and unbuttoning - how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse.

Journal entry (December 7, 1813)

Whenever I meet with anything agreeable in this world it surprises me so much - and pleases me so much (when my passions are not interested in one way or the other) that I go on wondering for a week to come.

Letter (June 6, 1819)

Why I came here, I know not; where I shall go it is useless to enquire - in the midst of myriads of the living & the dead worlds, stars, systems, infinity, why should I be anxious about an atom?

Letter to Annabella Milbanke (March 3, 1814)

With just enough of learning to misquote.

Of critics, in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

Your letter of excuses has arrived. I receive the letter but do not admit the excuses except in courtesy, as when a man treads on your toes and begs your pardon - the pardon is granted, but the joint aches, especially if there is a corn upon it.

Letter to John Murray (February 2, 1821)

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