Edwin Percy Whipple

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Edwin Percy Whipple

Edwin Percy Whipple (March 8, 1819June 16, 1886) was a literary critic and essayist from Massachusetts.


  • But man, being, as I have said, essentially an active being, he must find in activity his joy, as well as his duty and glory. And labor, like everything else that is good, is its own exceeding great reward.

Essays and Reviews (1848)[edit]

Essays and Reviews (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1848)
  • Felicity, not fluency, of language is a merit.
    • Vol. I. Poets and Poetry of America, p. 60.
  • A Thought embodied and embrained in fit words, walks the earth a living being.
    • Vol. I. Words, p. 114.
  • Nothing is rarer than the use of a word in its exact meaning.
    • Vol. I. Words, p. 115

Literature and Life (1850)[edit]

Lectures on Subjects Connected with Literature and Life (Boston: Ticknor, Reed and Fields, 1850). Enlarged edition of 1883 (with four additional lectures) titled simply Literature and Life.
  • The invention of printing added a new element of power to the race. From that hour, in a most especial sense, the brain and not the arm, the thinker and not the soldier, books and not kings, were to rule the world; and weapons, forged in the mind, keen-edged and brighter than the sunbeam, were to supplant, the sword and the battle-axe. […] Books,—lighthouses erected in the great sea of time,—books, the precious depositories of the thoughts and creations of genius,—books, by whose sorcery times past become time present, and the whole pageantry of the world's history moves in solemn procession before our eyes;—these were to visit the firesides of the humble, and lavish the treasures of the intellect upon the poor. Could we have Plato, and Shakespeare, and Milton, in our dwellings, in the full vigor of their imaginations, in the full freshness of their hearts, few scholars would be affluent enough to afford them physical support; but the living images of their minds are within the eyes of all. From their pages their mighty souls look out upon us in all their grandeur and beauty, undimmed by the faults and follies of earthly existence, consecrated by time.
    • Lecture I: Authors in Their Relation to Life, pp. 36–38.
    • Paraphrased variant keeping only (with various changes or deletions) the sentences and phrases in bold from the original above:—
    • 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.
      • As reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 386.
  • The wise men of old have sent most of their morality down the stream of time in the light skiff of apothegm or epigram.
    • Lecture III: Wit and Humor, p. 86.
  • Humor implies a sure conception of the beautiful, the majestic, and the true, by whose light it surveys and shapes their opposites. It is an humane influence, softening with mirth the ragged inequalities of existence, promoting tolerant views of life, bridging over the spaces which separate the lofty from the lowly, the great from the humble.
    • Lecture III: Wit and Humor, p. 92.
  • Irony is an insult conveyed in the form of a compliment.
    • Lecture III: Wit and Humor, p. 102.
  • Everybody knows that fanaticism is religion caricatured; bears, indeed, about the same relation to it that a monkey bears to a man; yet, with many, contempt of fanaticism is received as a sure sign of hostility to religion.
    • Lecture IV: The Ludicrous Side of Life, p. 133.
  • An epigram often flashes light into regions where reason shines but dimly.
    • Lecture IV: The Ludicrous Side of Life, p. 148.
  • Genius is not a single power, but a combination of great powers. It reasons, but it is not reasoning; it judges, but it is not judgment; it imagines, but it is not imagination; it feels deeply and fiercely, but it is not passion. It is neither, because it is all. It is another name for the perfection of human nature, for Genius is not a fact but an ideal. It is nothing less than the possession of all the powers and impulses of humanity, in their greatest possible strength and most harmonious combination; and the genius of any particular man is great in proportion as he approaches this ideal of universal genius.
    • Lecture V: Genius, pp. 158–159.
  • Talent is a cistern; Genius, a fountain.
    • Lecture V: Genius, p. 162.
  • Talent jogs to conclusions to which Genius takes giant leaps.
    • Lecture V: Genius, p. 162.
  • Talent is full of thoughts; Genius, of thought: one has definite acquisitions; the other, indefinite power.
    • Lecture V: Genius, p. 162.
  • No education deserves the name, unless it develops thought,—unless it pierces down to the mysterious spiritual principle of mind, and starts that into activity and growth.
    • Lecture V: Genius, p. 183.

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