Quotes by Georg C. Lichtenberg

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Georg Christoph Lichtenberg , 1742-99, German physicist and satirist. He taught at the Univ. of Göttingen, where his special field was electricity. Lichtenberg made several visits to England and was influenced by the satire of Swift and by the English theater. He satirized the pseudoscience of Lavater and attacked the Sturm und Drang writers. He also wrote witty commentaries on Hogarth's engravings.

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One cannot demand of a scholar that he show himself a scholar everywhere in society, but the whole tenor of his behavior must none the less betray the thinker, he must always be instructive, his way of judging a thing must even in the smallest matters be such that people can see what it will amount to when, quietly and self-collected, he puts this power to scholarly use.

People often become scholars for the same reason they become soldiers: simply because they are unfit for any other station. Their right hand has to earn them a livelihood; one might say they lie down like bears in winter and seek sustenance from their paws.
The most heated defenders of a science, who cannot endure the slightest sneer at it, are commonly those who have not made very much progress in it and are secretly aware of this defect.
There is no greater impediment to progress in the sciences than the desire to see it take place too quickly.
He was always smoothing and polishing himself, and in the end he became blunt before he was sharp.
To grow wiser means to learn to know better and better the faults to which this instrument with which we feel and judge can be subject.
The noble simplicity in the works of nature only too often originates in the noble shortsightedness of him who observes it.
Cautiousness in judgment is nowadays to be recommended to each and every one: if we gained only one incontestable truth every ten years from each of our philosophical writers the harvest we reaped would be sufficient.
There are people who believe everything is sane and sensible that is done with a solemn face.
Just as the performance of the vilest and most wicked deeds requires spirit and talent, so even the greatest demand a certain insensitivity which under other circumstances we would call stupidity.
The most perfect ape cannot draw an ape; only man can do that; but, likewise, only man regards the ability to do this as a sign of superiority.
The great rule: If the little bit you have is nothing special in itself, at least find a way of saying it that is a little bit special.
Good taste is either that which agrees with my taste or that which subjects itself to the rule of reason. From this we can see how useful it is to employ reason in seeking out the laws of taste.
Most subjects at universities are taught for no other purpose than that they may be re-taught when the students become teachers.
It is almost everywhere the case that soon after it is begotten the greater part of human wisdom is laid to rest in repositories.
The journalists have constructed for themselves a little wooden chapel, which they also call the Temple of Fame, in which they put up and take down portraits all day long and make such a hammering you can't hear yourself speak.
If all else fails, the character of a man can be recognized by nothing so surely as by a jest which he takes badly.
The greatest events occur without intention playing any part in them; chance makes good mistakes and undoes the most carefully planned undertaking. The world's greatest events are not produced, they happen.
Man is always partial and is quite right to be. Even impartiality is partial.
To do the opposite of something is also a form of imitation, namely an imitation of its opposite.
I believe that man is in the last resort so free a being that his right to be what he believes himself to be cannot be contested.
Ideas too are a life and a world.
If you are going to build something in the air it is always better to build castles than houses of cards.
That man is the noblest creature may also be inferred from the fact that no other creature has yet contested this claim.
What is called an acute knowledge of human nature is mostly nothing but the observer's own weaknesses reflected back from others.
Of all the inventions of man I doubt whether any was more easily accomplished than that of a Heaven.
One might call habit a moral friction: something that prevents the mind from gliding over things but connects it with them and makes it hard for it to free itself from them.
There are people who possess not so much genius as a certain talent for perceiving the desires of the century, or even of the decade, before it has done so itself.
Everyone is a genius at least once a year; a real genius has his original ideas closer together.
What I do not like about our definitions of genius is that there is in them nothing of the day of judgment, nothing of resounding through eternity and nothing of the footsteps of the Almighty.
What most clearly characterizes true freedom and its true employment is its misemployment.
Man is a masterpiece of creation if for no other reason than that, all the weight of evidence for determinism notwithstanding, he believes he has free will.
A clever child brought up with a foolish one can itself become foolish. Man is so perfectible and corruptible he can become a fool through good sense.
Food probably has a very great influence on the condition of men. Wine exercises a more visible influence, food does it more slowly but perhaps just as surely. Who knows if a well-prepared soup was not responsible for the pneumatic pump or a poor one for a war?
If there were only turnips and potatoes in the world, someone would complain that plants grow the wrong way.
He who says he hates every kind of flattery, and says it in earnest, certainly does not yet know every kind of flattery.
The pleasures of the imagination are as it were only drawings and models which are played with by poor people who cannot afford the real thing.
We can see nothing whatever of the soul unless it is visible in the expression of the countenance; one might call the faces at a large assembly of people a history of the human soul written in a kind of Chinese ideograms.
What is the good of drawing conclusions from experience? I don't deny we sometimes draw the right conclusions, but don't we just as often draw the wrong ones?
If all mankind were suddenly to practice honesty, many thousands of people would be sure to starve.
Once the good man was dead, one wore his hat and another his sword as he had worn them, a third had himself barbered as he had, a fourth walked as he did, but the honest man that he was -- nobody any longer wanted to be that.
The fly that does not want to be swatted is safest if it sits on the fly-swat.
To be content with life -- or to live merrily, rather --all that is required is that we bestow on all things only a fleeting, superficial glance; the more thoughtful we become the more earnest we grow.
He who is enamored of himself will at least have the advantage of being inconvenienced by few rivals.
Man loves company, even if it is only that of a smoldering candle.
A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents.
It is no great art to say something briefly when, like Tacitus, one has something to say; when one has nothing to say, however, and none the less writes a whole book and makes truth into a liar -- that I call an achievement.
A vacuum of ideas affects people differently than a vacuum of air, otherwise readers of books would be constantly collapsing.
Do we write books so that they shall merely be read? Don't we also write them for employment in the household? For one that is read from start to finish, thousands are leafed through, other thousands lie motionless, others are jammed against mouseholes, thrown at rats, others are stood on, sat on, drummed on, have gingerbread baked on them or are used to light pipes.
There are very many people who read simply to prevent themselves from thinking.
Many things about our bodies would not seem to us so filthy and obscene if we did not have the idea of nobility in our heads.
With the majority of people unbelief in one thing is founded on the blind belief in another.
Actual aristocracy cannot be abolished by any law: all the law can do is decree how it is to be imparted and who is to acquire it.
To receive applause for works which do not demand all our powers hinders our advance towards a perfecting of our spirit. It usually means that thereafter we stand still.
One is rarely an impulsive innovator after the age of sixty, but one can still be a very fine orderly and inventive thinker. One rarely procreates children at that age, but one is all the more skilled at educating those who have already been procreated, and education is procreation of another kind.
He was then in his fifty-fourth year, when even in the case of poets reason and passion begin to discuss a peace treaty and usually conclude it not very long afterwards.
He who is in love with himself has at least this advantage -- he won't encounter many rivals.
The sure conviction that we could if we wanted to is the reason so many good minds are idle.
Virtue by premeditation isn't worth much.
He swallowed a lot of wisdom, but all of it seems to have gone down the wrong way.

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