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john buchan Quotes

John Buchan Quotes

Birth Date: 1875-08-26 (Thursday, August 26th, 1875)
Date of Death: 1940-02-11 (Sunday, February 11th, 1940)



    • The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.
    • To live for a time close to great minds is the best kind of education.
    • He disliked emotion, not because he felt lightly, but because he felt deeply.
    • There may be Peace without Joy, and Joy without Peace, but the two combined make Happiness.
    • The true definition of a snob is one who craves for what separates men rather than for what unites them.
    • We can pay our debts to the past by putting the future in debt to ourselves.
    • Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and the most honorable adventure.
    • Time, they say, must the best of us capture, And travel and battle and gems and gold No more can kindle the ancient rapture, For even the youngest of hearts grows old.
    • I mind as if it were yesterday my first sight of the man. Little I knew at the time how big the moment was with destiny, or how often that face seen in the fitful moonlight would haunt my sleep and disturb my waking hours.
    • Perfect love casteth out fear, the Bible says; but, to speak it reverently, so does perfect hate.
    • The vows we take in the holy place bind us till we are purged of them at Inanda's Kraal. Till then no blood must be shed and no flesh eaten. It was the fashion of our forefathers.
    • Last night I had looked into the heart of darkness, and the sight had terrified me. What part should I play in the great purification? Most likely that of the Biblical scapegoat.
    • Supposing you knew - not by sight or by instinct, but by sheer intellectual knowledge, as I know the truth of a mathematical proposition - that what we call empty space was full, crammed. Not with lumps of what we call matter like hills and houses, but with things as real - as real to the mind.
    • How if Space is really full of things we cannot see and as yet do not know? How if all animals and some savages have a cell in their brain or a nerve which responds to the invisible world? How if all Space be full of these landmarks, not material in our sense, but quite real? A dog barks at nothing, a wild beast makes an aimless circuit. Why? Perhaps because Space is made up of corridors and alleys, ways to travel and things to shun? For all we know, to a greater intelligence than ours the top of Mont Blanc may be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus.
    • I am bound to say that it took me a long time to understand what he meant. He began by saying that everybody thought of Space as an 'empty homogeneous medium.' 'Never mind at present what the ultimate constituents of that medium are. We take it as a finished product, and we think of it as mere extension, something without any quality at all. That is the view of civilised man. You will find all the philosophers taking it for granted. Yes, but every living thing does not take that view.
    • I wondered whether the scientific modern brain could not get to the stage of realising that Space is not an empty homogeneous medium, but full of intricate differences, intelligible and real, though not with our common reality.
    • I mused upon the ironic fate which had compelled a mathematical genius to make his sole confidant of a philistine lawyer, and induced that lawyer to repeat it confusedly to an ignoramus at twilight on a Scotch hill.
    • This crowded world of Space was perfectly real to him. How he had got to it I do not know. Perhaps his mind, dwelling constantly on the problem, had unsealed some atrophied cell and restored the old instinct. Anyhow, he was living his daily life with a foot in each world.
    • I gathered from Hollond that he was always conscious of corridors and halls and alleys in Space, shifting, but shifting according to inexorable laws. I never could get quite clear as to what this consciousness was like. When I asked he used to look puzzled and worried and helpless.
    • Remember his mind and no other part of him lived in his new world. He said it gave him an odd sense of detachment to sit in a room among people, and to know that nothing there but himself had any relation at all to the infinite strange world of Space that flowed around them. He would listen, he said, to a great man talking, with one eye on the cat on the rug, thinking to himself how much more the cat knew than the man.
    • He never went mad in your sense. My dear fellow, you're very much wrong if you think there was anything pathological about him - then. The man was brilliantly sane. His mind was as keen as a keen sword. I couldn't understand him, but I could judge of his sanity right enough.
    • 'There's a queer performance going on in the other world,' he said. 'It's unbelievable. I never dreamed of such a thing. I - I don't quite know how to put it, and I don't know how to explain it, but - but I am becoming aware that there are other beings - other minds - moving in Space besides mine.'
    • Of course he could only describe his impressions very lamely, for they were purely of the mind, and he had no material peg to hang them on, so that I could realise them. But the gist of it was that he had been gradually becoming conscious of what he called 'Presences' in his world. They had no effect on Space - did not leave footprints in its corridors, for instance - but they affected his mind. There was some mysterious contact established between him and them. I asked him if the affection was unpleasant and he said 'No, not exactly.' But I could see a hint of fear in his eyes.
    • I dropped all my own views of sense and nonsense. I told him that, taking all that he had told me as fact, the Presences might be either ordinary minds traversing Space in sleep; or minds such as his which had independently captured the sense of Space's quality; or, finally, the spirits of just men made perfect, behaving as psychical researchers think they do. It was a ridiculous task to set a prosaic man, and I wasn't quite serious.
    • 'Think,' I told him, 'what may be waiting for you. You may discover the meaning of Spirit. You may open up a new world, as rich as the old one, but imperishable. You may prove to mankind their immortality and deliver them for ever from the fear of death. Why, man, you are picking at the lock of all the world's mysteries.'
    • Leithen's story had bored and puzzled me at the start, but now it had somehow gripped my fancy. Space a domain of endless corridors and Presences moving in them! The world was not quite the same as an hour ago. It was the hour, as the French say, 'between dog and wolf,' when the mind is disposed to marvels.
    • Oh, I agree he went mad in the end. It is the only explanation. Something must have snapped in that fine brain, and he saw the little bit more which we call madness. Thank God, you and I are prosaic fellows...
    • I once played the chief part in a rather exciting business without ever once budging from London. And the joke of it was that the man who went out to look for adventure only saw a bit of the game, and I who sat in my chambers saw it all and pulled the strings. 'They also serve who only stand and wait,' you know.
    • I must get off for a bit or I'll bonnet Joggleberry or get up and propose a national monument to Guy Fawkes or something silly.
    • He was a bad acquaintance for a placid, sedentary soul like me, for though he could work like a Trojan when the fit took him, he was never at the same job very long. In the same week he would harass an Under-Secretary about horses for the Army, write voluminously to the press about a gun he had invented for potting aeroplanes, give a fancy-dress ball which he forgot to attend, and get into the semi-final of the racquets championship. I waited daily to see him start a new religion.
    • You don't know old Charles as I know him. He's got into a queer set, and there's no knowing what mischief he's up to. He's perfectly capable of starting a revolution in Armenia or somewhere merely to see how it feels like to be a revolutionary. That's the damned thing about the artistic temperament.
    • To be watchful, I decided, was my business. And I could not get rid of the feeling that I might soon have cause for all my vigilance.
    • Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.
    • You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.
    • Civilisation is a conspiracy. What value would your police be if every criminal could find a sanctuary across the Channel, or your law courts, if no other tribunal recognised their decisions? Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences. And it will succeed till the day comes when there is another compact to strip them bare
    • Civilisation needs more than the law to hold it together. You see, all mankind are not equally willing to accept as divine justice what is called human law.
    • When all is said, we are ruled by the amateurs and the second-rate. The methods of our departments would bring any private firm to bankruptcy. The methods of Parliament - pardon me - would disgrace any board of directors. Our rulers pretend to buy expert knowledge, but they never pay the price for it that a business man would pay, and if they get it they have not the courage to use it. Where is the inducement for a man of genius to sell his brains to our insipid governors? And yet knowledge is the only power - now as ever. A little mechanical device will wreck your navies. A new chemical combination will upset every rule of war. It is the same with our commerce. One or two minute changes might sink Britain to the level of Ecuador, or give China the key of the world's wealth. And yet we never dream that these things are possible. We think our castles of sand are the ramparts of the universe.
    • I read now and then in the papers that some eminent scientist had made a great discovery. He reads a paper before some Academy of Science, and there are leading articles on it, and his photograph adorns the magazines. That kind of man is not the danger. He is a bit of the machine, a party to the compact. It is the men who stand outside it that are to be reckoned with, the artists in discovery who will never use their knowledge till they can use it with full effect.
    • You may hear people say that submarines have done away with the battleship, and that aircraft have annulled the mastery of the sea. That is what our pessimists say. But do you imagine that the clumsy submarine or the fragile aeroplane is really the last word of science?
    • You see only the productions of second-rate folk who are in a hurry to get wealth and fame. The true knowledge, the deadly knowledge, is still kept secret. But, believe me, my friend, it is there.
    • I cannot pry into motives. I only know of the existence of great extra-social intelligences. Let us say that they distrust the machine. They may be idealists and desire to make a new world, or they may simply be artists, loving for its own sake the pursuit of truth. If I were to hazard a guess, I should say that it took both types to bring about results, for the second find the knowledge and the first the will to use it.
    • If those extra-social brains are so potent, why after all do they effect so little? A dull police-officer, with the machine behind him, can afford to laugh at most experiments in anarchy.
    • Civilisation knows how to use such powers as it has, while the immense potentiality of the unlicensed is dissipated in vapour. Civilisation wins because it is a world-wide league; its enemies fail because they are parochial. But supposing ... supposing anarchy learned from civilisation and became international. Oh, I don't mean the bands of advertising donkeys who call themselves International Unions of Workers and suchlike rubbish. I mean if the real brain-stuff of the world were internationalised. Suppose that the links in the cordon of civilisation were neutralised by other links in a far more potent chain. The earth is seething with incoherent power and unorganised intelligence.
    • 'It would scarcely be destruction,' he replied gently. 'Let us call it iconoclasm, the swallowing of formulas, which has always had its full retinue of idealists. And you do not want a Napoleon. All that is needed is direction, which could be given by men of far lower gifts than a Bonaparte. In a word, you want a Power-House, and then the age of miracles will begin.'
    • I was a peaceful sedentary man, a lover of a quiet life, with no appetite for perils and commotions. But I was beginning to realise that I was very obstinate.
    • I am not courageous. To be brave means that you have conquered fear, but I have never had any fear to conquer. Believe me, Mr Leithen, I am quite impervious to threats. You come to me to-night and hold a pistol to my head. You offer me two alternatives, both of which mean failure. But how do you know that I regard them as failure? I have had what they call a good run for my money. No man since Napoleon has tasted such power. I may be willing to end it. Age creeps on and power may grow burdensome. I have always sat loose from common ambitions and common affections. For all you know I may regard you as a benefactor.
    • I felt myself in the presence of something enormously big, as if a small barbarian was desecrating the colossal Zeus of Pheidias with a coal hammer. But I also felt it inhuman, and I hated it, and I clung to that hatred. 'You fear nothing and you believe nothing,' I said. 'Man, you should never have been allowed to live.'
    • I am a sceptic about most things... but, believe me, I have my own worship. I venerate the intellect of man. I believe in its undreamed-of possibilities, when it grows free like an oak in the forest and is not dwarfed in a flower-pot. From that allegiance I have never wavered. That is the God I have never forsworn.
    • We look for romance in the well-cultivated garden-plots, and when it springs out of virgin soil we are surprised, though any fool might know it was the natural place for it.
    • The things we call aristocracies and reigning houses are the last places to look for masterful men. They began strongly, but they have been too long in possession. They have been cosseted and comforted and the devil has gone out of their blood. Don't imagine that I undervalue descent. It is not for nothing that a great man leaves posterity. But who is more likely to inherit the fire - the elder son with his flesh-pots or the younger son with his fortune to find?
    • We none of us know our ancestors beyond a little way. We all of us may have kings' blood in our veins.
    • The spark once transmitted may smoulder for generations under ashes, but the appointed time will come, and it will flare up to warm the world. God never allows waste. And we fools rub our eyes and wonder, when we see genius come out of the gutter. It didn't begin there. We tell ourselves that Shakespeare was the son of a woolpedlar, and Napoleon of a farmer, and Luther of a peasant, and we hold up our hands at the marvel. But who knows what kings and prophets they had in their ancestry!
    • Generations follow, oblivious of the high beginnings, but there is that in the stock which is fated to endure. The sons and daughters blunder and sin and perish, but the race goes on, for there is a fierce stuff of life in it. It sinks and rises again and blossoms at haphazard into virtue or vice, since the ordinary moral laws do not concern its mission. Some rags of greatness always cling to it, the dumb faith that sometime and somehow that blood drawn from kings it never knew will be royal again. Though nature is wasteful of material things, there is no waste of spirit. And then after long years there comes, unheralded and unlooked-for, the day of the Appointed Time...
    • Every wife is like Mary the Blessed and may bear a saviour of mankind. The road is long, but the ways of Heaven are sure.
    • The promise had not failed her. . . . She had won everything from life, for she had given the world a master. Words seemed to speak themselves in her ear . . . 'Bethink you of the blessedness. Every wife is like the Mother of God and has the hope of bearing a saviour of mankind.'
    • Truth's like a dollar-piece, it's got two sides, and both are wanted to make it good currency.
    • The law and the constitution are like a child's pants. They've got to be made wider and longer as the child grows so as to fit him. If they're kept too tight, he'll burst them; and if you're in a hurry and make them too big all at once, they'll trip him up.
    • If the Lord sends us war, we have got to face it like men, but God forbid we should manufacture war, and use it as an escape from our domestic difficulties. You can't expect a blessing on that.
    • Most true points are fine points. There never was a dispute between mortals where both sides hadn't a bit of right.
    • They want to hurry things quicker than the Almighty means them to go. I don't altogether blame them either, for I'm mortally impatient myself. But it s no good thinking that saying a thing should be so will make it so. We're not the Creator of this universe. You've got to judge results according to your instruments.
    • History does not repeat itself except with variations, and it is idle to look for exact parallels, but we can trace a resemblance between the conditions of his time and those of to-day. Once again the crust of civilization has worn thin, and beneath can be heard the muttering of primeval fires. Once again many accepted principles of government have been overthrown, and the world has become a laboratory where immature and feverish minds experiment with unknown forces. Once again problems cannot be comfortably limited, for science has brought the nations into an uneasy bondage to each other. In the actual business of administration there is no question of today which Augustus had not to face and answer.
    • If his 'magna imago' could return to earth, he would be puzzled at some of our experiments in empire, and might well complain that the imperfections of his work were taken as its virtues, and that so many truths had gone silently out of mind. He had prided himself on having given the world peace, and he would be amazed by the loud praise of war as a natural and wholesome concomitant of a nation's life. Wars he had fought from an anxious desire to safeguard his people, as the shepherd builds the defences of his sheepfold; but he hated the thing, because he knew well the deadly 'disordering,' which the Greek historian noted as the consequence of the most triumphant campaign. He would marvel, too, at the current talk of racial purity, the exaltation of one breed of men as the chosen favourites of the gods. That would seem to him not only a defiance of the new Christian creed, but of the Stoicism which he had sincerely professed.
    • The Augustan constitution remains one of the major products of the human intelligence. It was a whole into which the parts fitted smoothly, but both whole and parts were elastic and capable of swift adaptation to unforeseen conditions. It was elaborate, but that was necessary, both because of its origin and its purpose.
    • Any large-scale organization must lose some of the merits of its rudimentary beginnings. Quantity will have a coarsening effect on quality.
    • There is no merit in an empire as such. Extension in space does not necessarily mean spiritual advancement. The small community is easier to govern, and, it may well be, more pleasant to live in. If its opportunities are limited its perils are also circumscribed. But the alternatives which confronted him were empire or anarchy.
    • The Athenian empire lasted for fifty years at the most, and the stupendous creation of Alexander the Great for less. What has been the fate of succeeding imperialisms? That of Spain endured on the grand scale for little more than a century; that of Napoleon for a decade; the British Empire is less than two centuries old, and in its present form is a thing of yesterday. In the brief span of recorded history empires have had a shorter life than many monarchies, theocracies, and even republics. The Augustan alone reached a venerable age. In the coming of Christianity it had to face the greatest of all historic convulsions, but such was its potency that it weathered the storm and influenced profoundly the organization of the Christian church.
    • The true achievement of Augustus is that he saved the world from disintegration. Without him Rome must have lost her conquests one by one, and seen them relapse into barbarism or degenerate into petty satrapies. The wild peoples of the East and North would have ante-dated their invasions by centuries.
    • It is due to him that the Roman concepts of public duty and service are still a living force among us. Historians have denied him the name of genius which they grant readily to Alexander and Julius and Napoleon; but if it be not genius to re-make and re-direct the world by a courageous realism and supreme powers of character and mind, then the word has no meaning in human speech.
    • The world was arrogant and self-satisfied, but behind all this confidence there was an uneasy sense of impending disaster. The old creeds, both religious and political, were largely in the process of dissolution, but we did not realise the fact, and therefore did not look for new foundations.
    • We had our pride shattered, and without humility there can be no humanity.
    • A great storm destroys much that is precious, but it may also clear the air and blow down trees which might have been obscuring the view and making our life stuffy, and reveal in our estate possibilities of development that we had not thought of.
    • To-day we have fewer dogmas, but I think that we have stronger principles. By a dogma I mean a deduction from facts which is only valid under certain conditions, and which becomes untrue if those conditions change. By a principle I mean something that is an eternal and universal truth.
    • Our sufferings have taught us that no nation is sufficient unto itself, and that our prosperity depends in the long run, not upon the failure of our neighbors but their successes.
    • I have heard an atheist defined as a man who had no invisible means of support.
    • Peace is that state in which fear of any kind is unknown.
    • Prayer opens the heart to God, and it is the means by which the soul, though empty, is filled by God.
    • The best prayers have often more groans than words.
    • The robe of flesh wears thin, and with the years God shines through all things.
    • He who would valiant be against all disaster; Let him in constancy Follow the Master. There's no discouragement Shall make him once relent; His first avowed intent To be a pilgrim.
    • john buchan

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