William R. Alger

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William Rounseville Alger

William Rounseville Alger (1822-1905) was a Unitarian minister and author whose writings were important to the development of comparative religious studies. His works included The Poetry of the East (1856) and A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life (1860).


  • Most men give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.
    • Reported in Raphael Lewin, Ed., The New Era (1872), Volume 2, p. 315.
  • When man seized the loadstone of science, the loadstar of superstition vanished in the clouds.
    • Reported in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of thought: Forming an encyclopedia of quotations from Ancient and Modern Authors (1884), p. 460.
  • Men often make up in wrath what they want in reason.
    • Reported in Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of thought: Forming an encyclopedia of quotations from Ancient and Modern Authors (1884), p. 23.

"The Utility and Futility of Aphorisms," 1863


William R. Alger. "The Utility and Futility of Aphorisms" in: Atlantic Monthly: A Magazine of Literature, Art and Politics, Vol. 11, Atlantic Monthly, 1863, p. 178-184.

  • The best aphorisms are pointed expressions of the results of observation, experience, and reflection. They are portable wisdom, the quintessential extracts of thought and feeling. They furnish the largest amount of intellectual stimulus and nutriment in the smallest compass. About every weak point in human nature, or vicious spot in human life, there is deposited a crystallization of warning and protective proverbs.
    • p. 178.
  • To appreciate and use correctly a valuable maxim requires a genius, a vital appropriating exercise of mind, closely allied to that which first created it.

Poetry of the Orient


1865 edition

  • In the rest of Nirvana all sorrows surcease:
    Only Buddha can guide to that city of Peace
    Whose inhabitants have the eternal release.
    • "A Leader to Repose", p. 101.
  • God's mills grind slow,
    But they grind woe.
    • "Delayed Retribution", p. 123.
  • Fill up the goblet and reach to me some!
    Drinking makes wise, but dry fasting makes glum.
    • "Wine Song of Kaitmas", p. 161.
  • Beware the deadly fumes of that insane elation
    Which rises from the cup of mad impiety,
    And go, get drunk with that divine intoxication
    Which is more sober far than all sobriety.
    • "The Sober Drunkenness", p. 167.
  • The moon is a silver pin-head vast,
    That holds the heaven's tent-hangings fast.
    • "The Use of the Moon", p. 178.
  • Ten poor men sleep in peace on one straw heap, as Saadi sings,
    But the immensest empire is too narrow for two kings.
    • "Elbow Room", p. 188.
  • As two floating planks meet and part on the sea,
    O friend! so I met and then drifted from thee.
    • "The Brief Chance Encounter", p. 196.
  • In the nine heavens are eight Paradises;
    Where is the ninth one? In the human breast.
    Only the blessed dwell in th' Paradises,
    But blessedness dwells in the human breast.
    • "The Ninth Paradise", p. 223.
  • A gray eye is a sly eye,
    And roguish is a brown one;
    Turn full upon me thy eye,—
    Ah, how its wavelets drown one!
    A blue eye is a true eye;
    Mysterious is a dark one,
    Which flashes like a spark-sun!
    A black eye is the best one.
    • "Mirtsa Schaffy on Eyes", p. 228.

1893 edition

  • A thousand years a poor man watched
    Before the gate of Paradise:
    But while one little nap he snatched,
    It oped and shut. Ah! was he wise?
    • "Swift Opportunity", p. 281.
  • An Arab, by his earnest gaze,
    Has clothed a lovely maid with blushes;
    A smile within his eyelids plays
    And into words his longing gushes.
    • "Love Sowing and Reaping Roses", p. 295.
  • With strength and patience all his grievous loads are borne,
    And from the world's rose-bed he only asks a thorn.
    • "Mussud's Praise of the Camel", p. 257.
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