William Dean Howells

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We live, but a world has passed away
With the years that perished to make us men.

William Dean Howells (March 1, 1837May 11, 1920) was an American realist author and literary critic.


  • We live, but a world has passed away
    With the years that perished to make us men.
    • The Mulberries (1871).
  • The life of Christ, it wasn't only in healing the sick and going about to do good; it was suffering for the sins of others. That's as great a mystery as the mystery of death. Why should there be such a principle in the world? But it's been felt, and more or less dumbly, blindly recognized ever since Calvary. If we love mankind, pity them, we even wish to suffer for them. That's what has created the religious orders in all times--the brotherhoods and sisterhoods that belong to our day as much as to the mediaeval past. That's what is driving a girl like Margaret Vance, who has everything that the world can offer her young beauty, on to the work of a Sister of Charity among the poor and the dying.
  • Lord, for the erring thought
    Not into evil wrought:
    Lord, for the wicked will
    Betrayed and baffled still:
    For the heart from itself kept,
    Our thanksgiving accept.
    • A Thanksgiving.
  • And before you know me gone
    Eternity and I are one.
    • Time.
  • Her mouth is a honey-blossom,
    No doubt, as the poet sings;
    But within her lips, the petals,
    Lurks a cruel bee that stings.
    • The Sarcastic Fair.
  • He who sleeps in continual noise is wakened by silence [...]
  • See how today's achievement is only tomorrow's confusion;
    See how possession always cheapens the thing that was precious.
    • Pordenone, IV.
  • The mortality of all inanimate things is terrible to me, but that of books most of all.
    • Letter to Charles Eliot Norton (April 6, 1903).
  • I am not sorry for having wrought in common, crude material so much; that is the right American stuff; and perhaps hereafter, when my din is done, if anyone is curious to know what that noise was, it will be found to have proceeded from a small insect which was scraping about on the surface of our life and trying to get into its meaning for the sake of the other insects larger or smaller. That is, such has been my unconscious work; consciously, I was always, as I still am, trying to fashion a piece of literature out of the life next at hand.
    • Letter to Charles Eliot Norton (April 26, 1903).
  • Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature.
  • n artistic atmosphere does not create artists a literary atmosphere does not create literators; poets and painters spring up where there was never a verse made or a picture seen. This suggests that God is no more idle now than He was at the beginning, but that He is still and forever shaping the human chaos into the instruments and means of beauty.
    • My Literary Passions (1895).
  • Christ and the life of Christ is at this moment inspiring the literature of the world as never before, and raising it up a witness against waste and want and war. It may confess Him, as in Tolstoi's work it does, or it may deny Him, but it cannot exclude Him; and in the degree that it ignores His spirit, modern literature is artistically inferior. In other words, all good literature is now Christmas literature.
    • In Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Editor's Study. Christmas Literature, December 1888, p. 158-59, as quoted in An Imperative Duty, Appendix D, 7.

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