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A collection of thoughts and quotes by Robertson Davies on philosophy, books, reading, writing, perspective, belief, bias, love, reality and adversity.

84 Thought-Provoking Quotes By Robertson Davies

Quick Facts

Famous As: Author and Journalist

Born On: August 28, 1913

Died On: December 2, 1995

Born In: Thamesville

Died At Age: 82

William Robertson Davies was a Canadian author, professor, novelist, playwright and critic. Davies was born in a distinguished and educated family and he also followed suit. He studied at Queen’s University till 1935 but did not graduate and then enrolled at Balliol College at University of Oxford, from where he was awarded a BLitt degree. After his return to Canada, Davies became a prolific writer and contributed to several journals. He had also worked as the literary editor of the magazine ‘Saturday Night’ and then went on to become the general editor of ‘Peterborough Examiner’. Davies published a number of books, plays and articles throughout his life and some of the most noted ones being, ‘The Deptford Trilogy’, ‘The Salterton Trilogy’ and ‘The Cornish Trilogy’ among others. In addition to his literary exploits, he was a noted academic too and taught at Trinity College, University of Toronto for many years before going on to become the Master of Massey College. Whatever he has said or written has become quite famous as his quotes and thoughts and is quoted extensively. Here are some of the most profound quotes by William Robertson Davies that will give you a glimpse into the mind of one of Canada’s most highly regarded authors. 
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A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.

Robertson Davies

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

Robertson Davies

Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.

Robertson Davies

Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and they become more extraordinary because of it.

Robertson Davies

I wish people weren't so set on being themselves, when that means being a bastard.

Robertson Davies

Love affairs are for emotional sprinters; the pleasures of love are for the emotional marathoners.

Robertson Davies

To be a book-collector is to combine the worst characteristics of a dope fiend with those of a miser.

Robertson Davies

Boredom and stupidity and patriotism, especially when combined, are three of the greatest evils of the world we live in.

Robertson Davies

This is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free, but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Goodnight.

Robertson Davies

This is one of the cruelties of the theatre of life; we all think of ourselves as stars and rarely recognize it when we are indeed mere supporting characters or even supernumeraries.

Robertson Davies

Conversation in its true meaning isn't all wagging the tongue; sometimes it is a deeply shared silence.

Robertson Davies

If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get.

Robertson Davies

It was as though she was an exile from a world that saw things her way

Robertson Davies

One learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence.

Robertson Davies

Money, it is often said, does not bring happiness; it must be added, however, that it makes it possible to support unhappiness with exemplary fortitude.

Robertson Davies

A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life.

Robertson Davies

Everything matters. The Universe is approximately fifteen billion years old, and I swear that in all that time, nothing has ever happened that has not mattered, has not contributed in some way to the totality.

Robertson Davies

I was afraid and did not know what I feared, which is the worst kind of fear.

Robertson Davies

Fanaticism is overcompensation for doubt.

Robertson Davies

To be apt in quotation is a splendid and dangerous gift. Splendid, because it ornaments a man's speech with other men's jewels; dangerous, for the same reason.

Robertson Davies

All real fantasy is serious. Only faked fantasy is not serious. That is why it is so wrong to impose faked fantasy on children....

Robertson Davies

Nothing grows old-fashioned so fast as modernity.

Robertson Davies

I never heard of anyone who was really literate or who ever really loved books who wanted to suppress any of them.

Robertson Davies

Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.

Robertson Davies

On the whole, we treat the Devil shamefully, and the worse we treat Him the more He laughs at us.

Robertson Davies

There is absolutely no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.

Robertson Davies

God, youth is a terrible time! So much feeling and so little notion of how to handle it!

Robertson Davies

You're all mad for words. Words are just farts from a lot of fools who have swallowed too many books. Give me things!

Robertson Davies

No action is ever lost - nothing we do is without result. It's obvious, of course, but how many people ever really believe it, or act as if it were so?

Robertson Davies

A world without corruption would be a strange world indeed - and a damned bad world for lawyers, let me say.

Robertson Davies

An infant is a seed. Is it an oak seed or a cabbage seed? Who knows. All mothers think their children are oaks, but the world never lacks for cabbages.

Robertson Davies

My position was a common one; I wanted to do the right thing but could not help regretting the damnable expense.

Robertson Davies

My lifelong involvement with Mrs Dempster began at 5:58 o'clock p.m. on 27 December 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old.

Robertson Davies

Life itself is too great a miracle for us to make so much fuss about potty little reversals of what we pompously assume to be the natural order.

Robertson Davies

Conversations and jokes together, mutual rendering of good services, the reading together of sweetly phrased books, the sharing of nonsense and mutual attentions.

Robertson Davies

Education is a great shield against experience. It offers so much, ready-made and all from the best shops, that there's a temptation to miss your own life in pursuing the life of your betters.

Robertson Davies

There is really no such thing as a secret; everybody likes to tell, and everybody does tell.

Robertson Davies

He [Jesus] had a terrible temper, you know, undoubtedly inherited from His Father.

Robertson Davies

Nothing is more dangerous to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library.

Robertson Davies

But I was a lonely creature, and although I would have been very happy to have a friend I just never happened to meet one.

Robertson Davies

The clerisy are those who read for pleasure, but not for idleness; who read for pastime but not to kill time; who love books, but do not live by books.

Robertson Davies

...one's family is made up of supporting players in one's personal drama. One never supposes that they starred in some possibly gaudy and certainly deeply felt show of their own.

Robertson Davies

To marry was to take a hand in a dangerous game where the stakes are the highest - a fuller life or a life diminished and confined. It was a game for adult players.

Robertson Davies

The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past.

Robertson Davies

You are like a fire: you warm me.

Robertson Davies

You are certainly unique. Everyone is unique. Nobody has ever suffered quite like you before because nobody has ever been you before.

Robertson Davies

If you cling frantically to the good, how are you to find out what the good really is?

Robertson Davies

Be sure you choose what you believe and know why you believe it, because if you don't choose your beliefs, you may be certain that some belief, and probably not a very credible one, will choose you.

Robertson Davies

What an amusing drama life is when one is not obliged to be one of the characters!

Robertson Davies

The only people who make any sense in the world are those who know that whatever happens to them has its roots in what they are.

Robertson Davies

There is no nonsense so gross that society will not, at some time, make a doctrine of it and defend it with every weapon of communal stupidity.

Robertson Davies

Be not another if thou canst be thyself.

Robertson Davies

Fanaticism is ... compensation for doubt

Robertson Davies

How much more complicated life is than the attainment of a Ph.D. would lead one to believe!

Robertson Davies

Subtle wits like to refresh themselves with a whiff of mild indecency.

Robertson Davies

Before she continued her search she sat in his revolving desk chair, and wept for the passing of time, and the necessary death of the well-loved, wise old man.

Robertson Davies

The recognition of oneself as a part of nature, and reliance on natural things, are disappearing for hundreds of millions of people who do not know that anything is being lost.

Robertson Davies

..but when one human creature dies a whole world of hope and memory and feeling dies with him. To be robbed of the dignity of a natural death is a terrible deprivation.

Robertson Davies

The house stank; a stench all its own pervaded every corner. It was a threnody in the key of Cat minor, with a ground-bass of Old Dog, and modulations of old people, waning lives, and relinquished hopes.

Robertson Davies

What had Pledger-Brown said? "Too bad, Davey; he wanted blood and all we could offer was guts.

Robertson Davies

Having me in the dining-room was almost the equivalent of having a Raeburn on the walls; I was classy, I was heavily varnished, and I offended nobody.

Robertson Davies

To know all is to despise all.

Robertson Davies

...the irrational will have its say, perhaps because 'irrational' is the wrong word for it.

Robertson Davies

But what I knew then was that nobody-- not even my mother-- was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.

Robertson Davies

Any theologian understands martyrdom, but only the martyr experiences the fire.

Robertson Davies

How they chirped over their cups.

Robertson Davies

You'll go far. How do I know? Because life is goosing you so hard you'll never stop climbing.

Robertson Davies

If you are determined on the religious life, you have to toughen up your mind. You have to let it be a thouroughfare for all thoughts, and among them you must make choices.

Robertson Davies

But what I knew then was that nobody-not even my mother-was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself in the surface.

Robertson Davies

Geordie wrote a letter to Mr. Webster in which the shrieking figure of Apology was hounded through a labyrinth of agonized syntax.

Robertson Davies

Nobody ever reads the same book twice.

Robertson Davies

Sometimes fear could be forgotten, but never for long.

Robertson Davies

Men have this climacteric, you know, like women. Doctors deny it, but I have met some very menopausal persons in their profession.

Robertson Davies

I seemed to be the only person I knew without a plan that would put the world on its feet and wipe the tear from every eye.

Robertson Davies

...so Leola thought that a modest romance with a hero in embryo could do no harm - might even be a patriotic duty.

Robertson Davies

I learned later that the former operator of Abdullah had been a dwarf who cannot have been fastidious about his person, and there was a strong whiff of hot dwarf as I grew hotter myself.

Robertson Davies

Wisdom may be rented...on the experience of other people, but we buy it at an inordinate price before we make it our own forever.

Robertson Davies

He became an unimaginative woman's creation. Delilah had shorn his locks and assured him he looked much neater and cooler without them. He gave her his soul, and she transformed it into a cabbage.

Robertson Davies

He gave me this advice one time: Never marry your childhood sweetheart, he said; the reasons that make you choose her will all turn into reasons why you should have rejected her.

Robertson Davies

And why should it not be terrifying? A little terror, in my view, is good for the soul, when it is terror in the face of a noble object.

Robertson Davies

Myself: But wasn't the decision a right one? Am I not here? What more could Feeling have achieved than was brought about by Reason?

Robertson Davies

Are you New World or Old?' 'Sounds like a novel by Henry James.' 'Never read him.' 'Don't. But that was his question and he plumped for the Old.

Robertson Davies

Of course some of us had some geography in school and had studied maps, but a school map is a terribly uncommunicative thing.

Robertson Davies

They were anxious to make men of us, by which they meant making us like themselves.

Robertson Davies