John Galsworthy OM (14 August 1867 – 31 January 1933) was an English novelist and playwright. Notable works include The Forsyte Saga (1906–1921) and its sequels, A Modern Comedy and End of the Chapter. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932.
- The world's a fine place for those who go out to take it; there's lots of unknown stuff in it yet. I'll fill your lap, my pretty, so full of treasures that you shan't know yourself. A man wasn't meant to sit at home...
- A Man of Devon (1901)
- The Forsytes were resentful of something, not individually, but as a family; this resentment expressed itself in an added perfection of raiment, an exuberance of family cordiality, an exaggeration of family importance, and — the sniff. Danger — so indispensable in bringing out the fundamental quality of any society, group, or individual — was what the Forsytes scented; the premonition of danger put a burnish on their armour. For the first time, as a family, they appeared to have an instinct of being in contact, with some strange and unsafe thing.
- The Man of Property (1906) Volume I of The Forsyte Saga.
- "To take life," went on the old man in a voice which, though charged with strong emotion, seemed to be speaking to itself, "was the chief mark of the insensate barbarism still prevailing in those days. It sprang from that most irreligious fetish, the belief in the permanence of the individual ego after death. From the worship of that fetish had come all the sorrows of the human race. … They did not stop to love each other in this life; they were so sure they had all eternity to do it in. The doctrine was an invention to enable men to act like dogs with clear consciences. Love could never come to full fruition till it was destroyed."
- Fraternity (1909)
- Justice is a machine that, when someone has once given it the starting push, rolls on of itself.
- Justice, Act II (1910)
- When Man evolved Pity, he did a queer thing — deprived himself of the power of living life as it is without wishing it to become something different.
- Letter to Thomas Hardy (27 March 1910)
- Life was to be lived — not torpidly dozed through in this queer cultured place, where age was in the blood! Life was for love — to be enjoyed!
- The Dark Flower (1913)
- It isn't enough to love people because they're good to you, or because in some way or other you're going to get something by it. We have to love because we love loving.
- A Bit O' Love (1915)
- Only love makes fruitful the soul. The sense of form that both had in such high degree prevented much demonstration; but to be with him, do things for him, to admire, and credit him with perfection; and, since she could not exactly wear the same clothes or speak in the same clipped, quiet, decisive voice, to dislike the clothes and voices of other men — all this was precious to her beyond everything.
- Beyond (1917)
- Love! Beyond measure — beyond death — it nearly kills. But one wouldn't have been without it.
- Beyond (1917)
- Love of beauty is really only the sex instinct, which nothing but complete union satisfies.
- Saint's Progress (1919)
- "I cannot explain. There are things that I can't make clear, because you are wilfully blind to all that I believe in. For what do you imagine we are fighting this great war, if it is not to reestablish the belief in love as the guiding principle of life?"
Laird shook his head. "We are fighting to redress a balance, which was in danger of being lost."
"The balance of power?"
"Heavens! — no! The balance of philosophy."
Pierson smiled. "That sounds very clever, George; but again, I don't follow you."
"The balance between the sayings: 'Might is Right,' and 'Right is Might.' They're both half-truth, but the first was beating the other out of the field. All the rest of it is cant, you know. And by the way, sir, your Church is solid for punishment of the evildoer. Where's mercy there? Either its God is not merciful, or else it doesn't believe in its God.
- Saint's Progress (1919)
- Summer — summer — summer! The soundless footsteps on the grass!
- Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918)
- I don't know much about morality and that, but there is this: It's always worth while before you do anything to consider whether it's going to hurt another person more than is absolutely necessary.
- In Chancery (1920); Third part of The Forsyte Saga
- Public opinion's always in advance of the law.
- Windows, Act I (1922)
- The value of a sentiment is the amount of sacrifice you are prepared to make for it.
- Windows, Act II (1922)
- Writing not long ago to my oldest literary friend, I expressed in a moment of heedless sentiment the wish that we might have again one of our talks of long-past days, over the purposes and methods of our art. And my friend, wiser than I, as he has always been, replied with this doubting phrase "Could we recapture the zest of that old time?"
I would not like to believe that our faith in the value of imaginative art has diminished, that we think it less worth while to struggle for glimpses of truth and for the words which may pass them on to other eyes; or that we can no longer discern the star we tried to follow; but I do fear, with him, that half a lifetime of endeavour has dulled the exuberance which kept one up till morning discussing the ways and means of aesthetic achievement. We have discovered, perhaps with a certain finality, that by no talk can a writer add a cubit to his stature, or change the temperament which moulds and colours the vision of life he sets before the few who will pause to look at it. And so — the rest is silence, and what of work we may still do will be done in that dogged muteness which is the lot of advancing years.
Other times, other men and modes, but not other truth. Truth, though essentially relative, like Einstein's theory, will never lose its ever-new and unique quality — perfect proportion; for Truth, to the human consciousness at least, is but that vitally just relation of part to whole which is the very condition of life itself. And the task before the imaginative writer, whether at the end of the last century or all these aeons later, is the presentation of a vision which to eye and ear and mind has the implicit proportions of Truth.
- Preface to Villa Rubein and Other Stories (1923)
- Looking back on the long-stretched-out body of one's work, it is interesting to mark the endless duel fought within a man between the emotional and critical sides of his nature, first one, then the other, getting the upper hand, and too seldom fusing till the result has the mellowness of full achievement. One can even tell the nature of one's readers, by their preference for the work which reveals more of this side than of that.
- Preface to Villa Rubein and Other Stories (1923)
- If you do not think about the future, you cannot have one.
- Swan Song (1928) Pt. II, Ch. 6
- A man of action forced into a state of thought is unhappy until he can get out of it.
- Maid in Waiting (1931), Ch. 3
- There's just one rule for politicians all over the world: Don't say in Power what you say in Opposition; if you do, you only have to carry out what the other fellows have found impossible.
- Maid in Waiting (1931), Ch. 7
- One's eyes are what one is, one's mouth what one becomes.
- Flowering Wilderness (1932), Ch. 2
Vague Thoughts On Art (1911)
- Art is that imaginative expression of human energy, which, through technical concretion of feeling and perception, tends to reconcile the individual with the universal, by exciting in him impersonal emotion. And the greatest Art is that which excites the greatest impersonal emotion in an hypothecated perfect human being.
- I paused, watching the swallows; for they seemed to me the symbol, in their swift, sure curvetting, all daring and balance and surprise, of the delicate poise and motion of Art, that visits no two men alike, in a world where no two things of all the things there be, are quite the same.
- Art is the one form of human energy in the whole world, which really works for union, and destroys the barriers between man and man. It is the continual, unconscious replacement, however fleeting, of oneself by another; the real cement of human life; the everlasting refreshment and renewal. For, what is grievous, dompting, grim, about our lives is that we are shut up within ourselves, with an itch to get outside ourselves. And to be stolen away from ourselves by Art is a momentary relaxation from that itching, a minute's profound, and as it were secret, enfranchisement. The active amusements and relaxations of life can only rest certain of our faculties, by indulging others; the whole self is never rested save through that unconsciousness of self, which comes through rapt contemplation of Nature or of Art.
- Art is the great and universal refreshment. For Art is never dogmatic; holds no brief for itself; you may take it, or you may leave it. It does not force itself rudely where it is not wanted. It is reverent to all tempers, to all points of view. But it is wilful — the very wind in the comings and goings of its influence, an uncapturable fugitive, visiting our hearts at vagrant, sweet moments; since we often stand even before the greatest works of Art without being able quite to lose ourselves! That restful oblivion comes, we never quite know when — and it is gone! But when it comes, it is a spirit hovering with cool wings, blessing us from least to greatest, according to our powers; a spirit deathless and varied as human life itself.
- I cannot help thinking that historians, looking back from the far future, will record this age as the Third Renaissance. We who are lost in it, working or looking on, can neither tell what we are doing, nor where standing; but we cannot help observing, that, just as in the Greek Renaissance, worn-out Pagan orthodoxy was penetrated by new philosophy; just as in the Italian Renaissance, Pagan philosophy, reasserting itself, fertilised again an already too inbred Christian creed; so now Orthodoxy fertilised by Science is producing a fresh and fuller conception of life — a love of Perfection, not for hope of reward, not for fear of punishment, but for Perfection's sake. Slowly, under our feet, beneath our consciousness, is forming that new philosophy, and it is in times of new philosophies that Art, itself in essence always a discovery, must flourish. Those whose sacred suns and moons are ever in the past, tell us that our Art is going to the dogs; and it is, indeed, true that we are in confusion! The waters are broken, and every nerve and sinew of the artist is strained to discover his own safety. It is an age of stir and change, a season of new wine and old bottles. Yet, assuredly, in spite of breakages and waste, a wine worth the drinking is all the time being made.
- Perfection, cosmically, was nothing but perfect Equanimity and Harmony; and in human relations, nothing but perfect Love and Justice. And Perfection began to glow before the eyes of the Western world like a new star, whose light touched with glamour all things as they came forth from Mystery, till to Mystery they were ready to return.
This — I thought is surely what the Western world has dimly been rediscovering. There has crept into our minds once more the feeling that the Universe is all of a piece, Equipoise supreme; and all things equally wonderful, and mysterious, and valuable. We have begun, in fact, to have a glimmering of the artist's creed, that nothing may we despise or neglect — that everything is worth the doing well, the making fair — that our God, Perfection, is implicit everywhere, and the revelation of Him the business of our Art.
- Is not the training of an artist a training in the due relation of one thing with another, and in the faculty of expressing that relation clearly; and, even more, a training in the faculty of disengaging from self the very essence of self — and passing that essence into other selves by so delicate means that none shall see how it is done, yet be insensibly unified? Is not the artist, of all men, foe and nullifier of partisanship and parochialism, of distortions and extravagance, the discoverer of that jack-o'-lantern — Truth; for, if Truth be not Spiritual Proportion I know not what it is. Truth it seems to me — is no absolute thing, but always relative, the essential symmetry in the varying relationships of life; and the most perfect truth is but the concrete expression of the most penetrating vision. Life seen throughout as a countless show of the finest works of Art; Life shaped, and purged of the irrelevant, the gross, and the extravagant; Life, as it were, spiritually selected — that is Truth; a thing as multiple, and changing, as subtle, and strange, as Life itself, and as little to be bound by dogma. Truth admits but the one rule: No deficiency, and no excess! Disobedient to that rule — nothing attains full vitality. And secretly fettered by that rule is Art, whose business is the creation of vital things.
- Only out of stir and change is born new salvation. To deny that is to deny belief in man, to turn our backs on courage! It is well, indeed, that some should live in closed studies with the paintings and the books of yesterday — such devoted students serve Art in their own way. But the fresh-air world will ever want new forms. We shall not get them without faith enough to risk the old! The good will live, the bad will die; and tomorrow only can tell us which is which!
- The seeing of things as they really are — the seeing of a proportion veiled from other eyes (together with the power of expression), is what makes a man an artist. What makes him a great artist is a high fervour of spirit, which produces a superlative, instead of a comparative, clarity of vision.
- What is creative instinct, if not an incessant living sympathy with Nature, a constant craving like that of Nature's own, to fashion something new out of all that comes within the grasp of those faculties with which Nature has endowed us? The qualities of vision, of fancy, and of imaginative power, are no more divorced from Nature, than are the qualities of common-sense and courage. They are rarer, that is all.
- Men fall, roughly speaking, into two flocks: Those whose intelligence is uninquiring in the face of Art, and does not demand to be appeased before their emotions can be stirred; and those who, having a speculative bent of mind, must first be satisfied by an enlightening quality in a work of Art, before that work of Art can awaken in them feeling. The audience of the realist is drawn from this latter type of man; the much larger audience of the romantic artist from the former; together with, in both cases, those fastidious few for whom all Art is style and only style, and who welcome either kind, so long as it is good enough.
- He is but a poor philosopher who holds a view so narrow as to exclude forms not to his personal taste. No realist can love romantic Art so much as he loves his own, but when that Art fulfils the laws of its peculiar being, if he would be no blind partisan, he must admit it. The romanticist will never be amused by realism, but let him not for that reason be so parochial as to think that realism, when it achieves vitality, is not Art. For what is Art but the perfected expression of self in contact with the world; and whether that self be of enlightening, or of fairy-telling temperament, is of no moment whatsoever. The tossing of abuse from realist to romanticist and back is but the sword-play of two one-eyed men with their blind side turned toward each other. Shall not each attempt be judged on its own merits? If found not shoddy, faked, or forced, but true to itself, true to its conceiving mood, and fair-proportioned part to whole; so that it lives — then, realistic or romantic, in the name of Fairness let it pass! Of all kinds of human energy, Art is surely the most free, the least parochial; and demands of us an essential tolerance of all its forms. Shall we waste breath and ink in condemnation of artists, because their temperaments are not our own?
- I sat, just watching the moon creep up, and hearing the thin, dry rustle of the leaves along the holly hedge. And there came to me this thought: What is this Universe — that never had beginning and will never have an end — but a myriad striving to perfect pictures never the same, so blending and fading one into another, that all form one great perfected picture? And what are we — ripples on the tides of a birthless, deathless, equipoised Creative-Purpose — but little works of Art?
Moods, Songs and Doggerels (1912)
- Come! Let us lay a lance in rest,
And tilt at windmills under a wild sky!
For who would live so petty and unblest
That dare not tilt at something ere he die;
Rather than, screened by safe majority,
Preserve his little life to little end,
And never raise a rebel cry!
- Errantry, St. 1, Moods, Songs and Doggerels (1912)
God save the pennon, ragged to the dawn,
That signs to moon to stand, and sun to fly;
And flutters when the weak is overborne
To stem the tide of fate and certainty.
That knows not reason, and that seeks no fame —
So! Undismayed beneath the serried clouds,
Raise up the banner of forlorn defence —
A jest to the complacency of crowds —
Bright-haloed with the one diviner sense:
To hold itself as nothing to itself;
And in the quest of its imagined star
To lose all thought of after-recompense!
- Errantry, St. 4 - 5
Over the River (1933)
- The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy, the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and, eminently, the finish of a voyage.
- Ch. 1
- Religion was nearly dead because there was no longer real belief in future life; but something was struggling to take its place — service — social service — the ants' creed, the bees' creed.
- Ch. 11
- Everything known before it happens; and headlines twice the size of the events.
- Ch. 27
- How to save the old that's worth saving, whether in landscape, houses, manners, institutions, or human types, is one of our greatest problems, and the one that we bother least about.
- Ch. 39
Quotes about John Galsworthy
- In fact, the real problem with the thesis of A Genealogy of Morals is that the noble and the aristocrat are just as likely to be stupid as the plebeian. I had noted in my teens that major writers are usually those who have had to struggle against the odds -- to "pull their cart out of the mud," as I put it -- while writers who have had an easy start in life are usually second rate -- or at least, not quite first-rate. Dickens, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Shaw, H. G. Wells, are examples of the first kind; in the twentieth century, John Galsworthy, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Samuel Beckett are examples of the second kind. They are far from being mediocre writers; yet they tend to be tinged with a certain pessimism that arises from never having achieved a certain resistance against problems.
- Colin Wilson in The Books In My Life, p. 188