The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen

Title: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen
Author: Jane Austen
Editor: Dominique Enright
Pages: 162
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Jane Austen. The name which, over the last few centuries, has been synonymous with the ideal romance novel. The name which has been adored by a gaggle of Darcy-stricken females. The name which has been equally detested by those who consider themselves to be above the trivialities depicted in her writings. The name of a woman who, although she never married herself, has nevertheless preached a philosophy of love to her millions of readers. The name of an author.

A remarkable woman, Jane Austen. A first-rate penetrator of foibles. An acute observer of human nature. And, above all, a woman who was amused with the world.

I do not consider myself to be a Jane Austen aficionado. It is true that I have read all seven of her completed novels, some with great enjoyment. I am not an ‘adorer’ – but I am an ‘appreciater’. I appreciate Austen’s wicked sharpness as she describes the faults of pride, self-pity, and out right idiocy. I appreciate the intricate personalities and elaborate communities which she stroked into existence. I appreciate that she created, not merely stories of love, but stories of life. Are her stories of life true to life? Not always. But when they are, they are deathly accurate.

This book was in a sense a tribute to Jane Austen, and in another sense, an offering from Jane Austen. It is a collection of her wit at its finest moments. The most enjoyable section, I found, was the very first – her ‘Early Exuberances’. I learned here that, what was later refined into a poignant wit began as an outrageous sense of humor. Her descriptions of melodramatic heroes and heroines madly rushing about and fainting on cue kept me laughing throughout the entire section. The first two quotes in the next section are examples of these exuberances.


“[Elfrida] flew to Frederic and in a manner truly heroick, spluttered out to him her intention of being married the next day.

Frederic’s reply is less than encouraging:

“Elfrida, you may be married tomorrow, but I won’t.”

This answer distressed her too much for her delicate constitution. She accordingly fainted and was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another.” [Frederic and Elfrida]

:) “spluttered out”, indeed…

Edward’s friend and husband of Sophia, Augustus, returns from a solitary walk:

Never did I see such an affecting scene as was the meeting of Edward and Augustus.

‘My life! My soul!” (exclaimed the former) ‘My adorable angel!’ (replied the latter), as they flew into each other’s arms. It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself – We fainted alternatively on a sofa.” [Love and Freindship, 1790]

The rest of these quotes, saving the very first, are all taken from letters written by Jane Austen. She must have been an amusing correspondent!

Happily [Mr. Woodhouse] was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it. – Though always objecting to every marriage that was arranged, he never suffered beforehand from the apprehension of any; it seemed as if he could not think so ill of any two persons’ understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them. [Emma, 1816]

“Charlotte Craven… looks very well, and her hair is done up with an elegance to do credit to any education.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 20, 1813]

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people. [Letter to Anna Austen, September 28, 1814]

I could no more write a [historical] romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life, and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.” [Letter to James Stanier Clarke, April 1, 1816]

“Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret and only known to half the neighborhood, you must not mention it.” [Letter to Cassandra, September 5, 1796]

“Charles Powlett gave a dance on Thursday, to the great disturbance of all his neighbours, of course, who, you know, take a most lively interest in the state of his finances, and live in hopes of his being soon ruined.” [Letter to Cassandra, December 1-2, 1798]

“If Mrs. Freeman is anywhere above ground give my best compliments to her.” [Letter to Cassandra, February 9, 1813]

I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 31, 1811]

Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end. [Letter to Cassandra, January 21, 1801]


Early in her career, Jane Austen wrote a letter from the perspective of “a Young Lady, whose feeling being too Strong for her Judgment, led her into the commission of Errors which her Heart disapproved.” In the letter, the Young Lady confesses to having murdered both her parents and planned to murder her sister.

Mistresses are mentioned twice, and Jane claims to having detected an adultress at a party. She also writes that a certain person’s object in life was “to be seductive”. Reference is made to Mr. Wickham’s seductive activities as well.

A reference is made to naked cupid statues.

‘Damme’ is used once.

Conclusion. A delightful read for those who appreciate wit, The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen is a succinct collection of her most pithy observations.

A Turn of the Clock

Title: A Turn of the Clock
Editor: Peter Kreeft
Pages: 81
Star Rating: ★ ★

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(I couldn’t find a picture of the book cover…. So I chose a picture of its compiler instead.)

A Turn of the Clock began by stating its premise:

1)      That ‘wisdom is real and attainable by ordinary people;

2)      That we can know something (never everything) about the most important things: truth and goodness and beauty and life and death and human nature, and even God;

3)      That life is therefore something more than ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’;

4)      That experience is a more reliable teacher of wisdom than are university professors or newspapers.

Peter Kreeft did not go so far as I would and state that the Scriptures are the most reliable teacher of all, but he included many quotes which mocked modern skepticism.

References were not provided with any of the quotes, so I am unable to credit their authors.


“Proverbs are like rocks: ordinary things, but polished to reflect light.” [pg. 9]

How dare we think we understand ourselves? We don’t even understand cows. [pg. 9]

“There are no heights without depths. Every mountain makes its own valley.” [pg. 10]

“You can find more wisdom in a single drop of water than in all the books of philosophy ever written, even books about finding wisdom in a drop of water.” [pg. 10]

The only things that can be taught are barely worth teaching, and the things most worth teaching can’t be taught. [pg. 11]

“The liveliest thought I have ever had is the thought that I am going to die.” [pg. 11]

“Freud is a fraud. I’d rather feel guilty about being bad than feel guilty about feeling guilty.” [pg. 13]

No one is less open-minded than a person who is sure that he is open-minded. [pg. 15]

“We will master our planet before we master our tongue.” [pg. 17]

“Never answer a person’s questions; answer the person.” [pg. 18]

Be grateful to friend death for making life precious. And fight with your friend for all you’re worth. [pg. 19]

“Pop psychology is like popcorn: fun but fluff.” [pg. 19]

“Things too deep for words are . . . too deep for words.” [pg. 20]

“The howling dog thinks he makes the sun come up. The howling philosopher thinks he makes the truth come up.” [pg. 21]

“There’s hope so long as we keep putting erasers on pencils.” [pg. 25]

‘”I am my own master!” Then you are also your own slave. [pg. 28]

“Men are vastly superior to women – at being men. And women are just as vastly superior to men – at being women.” [pg. 31]

“Conquer your enemies by making them your friends. Otherwise your enemy conquers you, because a conquered enemy is still an enemy.” [pg. 32]

How can we claim to see things as they really are? Our mind wears contact lenses that we can’t take off. [pg. 35]

“It’s true that there’s no truth. There are absolutely no absolutes. I’m certain we can never be certain. It’s an objective fact we can’t know objective facts. Skepticism can never untwist its essential pretzel.” [pg. 36]

“Everyone knows, deep down, that God is Irish. That’s why they unconsciously use his proper name when they talk to Him: O’God.” [pg. 43]


“The great problem of philosophy is easily solved: Being is what bees do.” [pg. 46]

We are on our guard against little lies, but suckers for The Big Lie. The greatest superstition in history was called ‘the Enlightenment’. The enslavement of women to masculine standards and roles is being called ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s liberation’. The totalitarian dictatoriship of an elite is called ‘communism’. [pg. 47]

“Medieval Christian society was like Columbus’ ship: simple and unluxurious, but on a great voyage to Somewhere. Modern secular society is like the Love Boat: luxurious and self-indulgent, but cruising in a circle to nowhere.” [pg. 49]

“We’re religious about our science and scientific about our religion. We put faith in the scientific method but refuse to believe in miracles.” [pg. 50]


As in any collection of popular sayings, some express false opinions. I found these were most obtrusive in the ‘Heaven and Hell’ section.

Conclusion. Don’t consider yourself pressed to purchase A Turn of the Clock; it’s not that amazing. But if you ever come across a cheap copy of it, it contains enough fun epigrams to be worth the minutes you’ll put into it.

An Apple a Day

Title: An Apple a Day
Compiler: Jo Petty
Pages: 54
Star Rating: ★★

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So this is one of those books filled with random quotes, some of which are unhelpful and others of which are thought provoking. Jo Petty, the compiler, neglected to credit authors for each quote, so I can only provide the quote without its creator. Here are some of the best.


Plan your work – work your plan.

A good man does not hesitate to own he has been in the wrong. He takes comfort in knowing he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Every man’s work is a portrait of himself.

Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.

Before you flare up at anyone’s faults, take time to count ten – ten of your own.

The difference between a prejudice and a conviction is that you can explain a conviction without getting mad.

Better to let ‘em wonder why you didn’t talk than why you did.

The secret of patience is doing something else in the meanwhile.

Dare to be wise; begin! He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.

Many of us spend half our time wishing for things we could have if we didn’t spend half our time wishing.

 Every time you give another a ‘piece of your mind’ you add to your own vacuum.

We cannot do everything at once; but we can do something at once.

Taxes could be much worse – suppose we had to pay on what we think we’re worth.

If your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep will be your downfall.

Christian character is not an inheritance; each individual must build it for himself.

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.

God’s requirements are met by God’s enabling.

A mistake at least proves somebody stopped talking long enough to do something.

A man’s best fortune or his worst is his wife.

The only way to settle a disagreement is on the basis of what’s right – not who’s right.

You shall judge a man by his foes as well as by his friends.

You have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.

Your friend has a friend, and you friend’s friend has a friend; be discreet.

He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of a diplomat.

If you clutter up your mind with little things, will there be any room left for the big things?

It’s smart to pick your friends – but not to pieces.

Nothing which is morally wrong can ever be politically right.

The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps cool.

Swallowing your pride occasionally will never give you indigestion.

If you want to put the world right, start with yourself.

Quite often when a man thinks his mind is getting broader it is only his conscience stretching.

The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is the way a man uses them.

The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but rather what he becomes by it.

We are always complaining our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.

One reason why a dog is such a lovable creature is that his tail wags instead of his tongue.

Let us realize that what happens round us is largely outside our control, but that the way we choose to react to it is inside our control.

We always weaken what we exaggerate.

Instead of waiting upon the Lord, some people want the Lord to wait upon them.

Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves nothing unsaid.

To will what God wills brings peace.

The only safe and sure way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

A mistake is evidence that someone has tried to do something.

Even moderation ought not to be practiced to excess.

Conclusion. Not a book that I would advise you to go particularly out of your way to find or even to purchase if it fell into your lap. But some of those quotes were thought provoking, didn’t you think?

A Treasury of Great American Quotations

Title: A Treasury of Great American Quotations
Editor: Charles Hurd
Pages: 318
Star Rating: ★★★

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By definition, a treasury is a collection of the best material available in a particular genre. Whatever is the ‘best’ in a field will be determined by the worldview of the editor. While wise Christian leaders were included in this treasury, a noticeable emphasis was placed on humanistic philosophers.

I have done my best glean the wheat from the chaff.

The Serious and Instructive.

“Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” – Jonathan Edwards

“It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.” – Daniel Webster

“A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends; and that the most liberal professions of good-will are very far from being the surest marks of it.” – George Washington

“Let thy child’s first lesson be obedience, and the second will be what thou wilt.” – Benjamin Franklin

“True repentance always involves reform.” – Hosea Ballou

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above it.” – Washington Irving

“Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended upon man.” – Francis Cardinal Spellman

“Experience alone cannot deliver to us necessary truths; truths completely demonstrated by reason. Its conclusions are particular, not universal.” – John Dewey

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” – Phillips Brooks

“The bravest battle that ever was fought;
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not;
It was fought by the mothers of men.”
– Cincinnatus Hiner

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“One cool judgment is worth a dozen hasty councils. The thing to do is to supply light and not heat.” – Woodrow Wilson

“As unto the bow the cord is,
So unto the man is woman,
Though she bends him, she obeys him,
Though she draws him, yet she follows;
Useless each without the other!”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Ideas are booming through the world louder than cannon. Thoughts are mightier than armies. Principles have achieved more victories than horsemen and chariots.” – W. M. Paxton

“Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” – Patrick Henry

“The harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph.” – Thomas Paine

“If, on a full and final review, my life and practice shall be found unworthy of my principles, let due infamy be heaped on my memory; but let none be led thereby to distrust the principles to which I proved recreant, nor yet the ability of some to adorn them by a suitable life and conversation. To unerring time be all this committed.” – Horace Greeley

“Let me make the newspapers, and I care not what is preached in the pulpit or what is enacted in Congress.” – Wendell Phillips

“He that does good for good’s sake seeks neither praise nor reward, though sure of both at the last.” – William Penn

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping harts are happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 The Incisive and Humorous.

“Common sense is very uncommon.” – Horace Greeley

“Steam is no stronger now than it was a hundred years ago, but it is put to better use.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.” – James Russell Lowell

“At the devil’s booth are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;”
– James Russell Lowell

“Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” – Horace Mann. I was greatly surprised that at his death Horace Mann was a teacher of theology at Antioch College.

“An Idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it.” – Don Marquis

“The cynic puts all human actions into two classes – openly bad and secretly bad.” – Henry Ward Beecher.

“Advertisements contain the only truth to be relied on in a newspaper.” – Thomas Jefferson (Sadly, even advertisements are deceptive now!)

“We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

“It a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him.” – Benjamin Franklin

“It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.” – William Penn

He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Next to being a great poet is the power of understanding one.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“I firmly believe that if the whole material medica as now used could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind – and all the worse for the fishes.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

“All one has to do to gather a large crowd in New York is to stand on the curb a few minutes and gaze intently at the sky.” George Jean Nathan


I have included all of the quotes which I felt were noteworthy, even when I did not agree with the teachings of their author.