Reflections on the meaning
and uses of history


History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man. ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

The history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from nature some advantage without paying for it. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know. ~ Harry Truman

When went there by an age, since the great flood / But it was famed with more than with one man? ~ Shakespeare

The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it. ~ Oscar Wilde

The history of the world is the record of a man in quest of his daily bread and butter. ~ Hendrik Willem Van Loon

The Past - the dark, unfathom'd retrospect! / The teeming gulf - the sleepers and the shadows! / The past! the infinite greatness of the past! / For what is the present after all but a growth out of the past? ~ Walt Whitman

The Don Quixote of one generation may live to hear himself called the savior of society by the next. ~ James Russell Lowell

History should be written as philosophy. ~ Voltaire

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. ~ Karl Marx

Our ignorance of history makes us slander our own times. ~ Gustave Flaubert

History is a realm in which human freedom and natural necessity are curiously intermingled. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

It has been said that although God cannot alter the past, historians can; it is perhaps because they can be useful to him in this respect that he tolerates their existence. ~ Samuel Butler

In the want of positive instincts, he drifted into the mental indolence of history. ~ Henry Adams

Great abilities are not requisite for an historian, for in historical composition all the greatest powers of the human mind are quiescent. ~ Samuel Johnson

A fair-minded man, when reading history, is occupied almost entirely with refuting it. ~ Voltaire

The past, at least, is secure. ~ Daniel Webster

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. ~ L. P. Hartley

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. ~ James Baldwin

No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men. ~ Thomas Carlyle

Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory. ~ Benjamin Disraeli

History is the zoology of the human race. ~ Franz Grillparzer

Study the past if you would divine the future. ~ Confucius

Blood alone moves the wheels of history. ~ Benito Mussolini

The historian's first duties are sacrilege and the mocking of false gods. ~ Jules Michelet

History repeats itself; that's one of the things that's wrong with history. ~ Clarence Darrow

Anyone who believes you can't change history has never tried to write his memoirs. ~ David Ben Gurion

History is the discovering of the constant and universal principles of human nature. ~ David Hume

History is on every occasion the record of that which one age finds worthy of note in another. ~ Jakob Burckhardt

The past is all holy to us; the dead are all holy; even they that were wicked when alive. ~ Thomas Carlyle

Therefore Agathon rightly says: "Of this alone even God is deprived, the power of making things that are past never to have been." ~ Aristotle

The past is a work of art, free of irrelevancies and loose ends. ~ Max Beerbohm

The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause. ~ Henri Louis Bergson

Not heaven itself upon the past has power / But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour. ~ John Dryden

Oh! the good times when we were so unhappy. ~ Alexandre Dumas (the elder)

Living the past is a dull and lonely business; looking back strains the neck muscles, causes you to bump into people not going your way. ~ Edna Ferber

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. ~ Abraham Lincoln

It is history that teaches us to hope. ~ Robert E. Lee

History seems to us an arena of instincts and fashions, of appetite, avarice, and craving for power, of blood lust, violence, destruction, and wars, of ambitious ministers, venal generals, bombarded cities, and we too easily forget that this is only one of its many aspects. Above all we forget that we ourselves are a part of history, that we are the product of growth and are condemned to perish if we lose the capacity for further growth and change. We are ourselves history and share the responsibility for world history and our position in it. ~ Hermann Hesse

History, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools. ~ Ambrose Bierce

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past - so, good night! ~ Thomas Jefferson to John Adams

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit. ~ Hunter S. Thompson

History is a child building a sand-castle by the sea, and that child is the whole majesty of man's power in the world. ~ Heraclitus

History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other. ~ Philip Guedalla

History suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition. ~ Milton Friedman

History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today. ~ Henry Ford

All history becomes subjective; in other words there is properly no history, only biography. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice. ~ Mark Twain

English history is all about men liking their fathers, and American history is all about men hating their fathers and trying to burn down everything they ever did. ~ Malcolm Bradbury

The history of the world, as it is written and handed down by word of mouth, often fails us completely; but man's intuitive capacity, though it often misleads, does lead, does not ever abandon one. ~ Franz Kafka

History is philosophy teaching by examples. ~ Thucydides

The historian must not try to know what is truth, if he values his honesty; for, if he cares for his truths, he is certain to falsify his facts. ~ Henry Adams

Men use the past to prop up their prejudices. ~ A. J. P. Taylor

History, with all her volumes vast / Hath but one page. ~ Byron

Historians relate not so much what is done as what they would have believed. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Social history might be defined negatively as the history of a people with the politics left out. ~ G. M. Trevelyan

History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember. ~ Mikhail Bakunin

People and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. ~ Hegel

History is all explained by geography. ~ Robert Penn Warren

The history of mankind is the history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. ~ Seneca Falls Convention

History can predict nothing except that great changes in human relationships will never come about in the form in which they have been anticipated. ~ Johan Huizinga

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. ~ Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the the movements of the world gave a chance for it. ~ Walter Bagehot

History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives. ~ Abba Eban

The history of our era is the nauseating and repulsive history of the crucifixion of the procreative body for the glorification of the spirit. ~ D. H. Lawrence

History warns us that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions. ~ Thomas Huxley

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. ~ H. G. Wells

History is fond of her grandchildren, for it offers them the marrow of the bones, which the previous generation had hurt its hands in breaking. ~ Nikolai Chernyshevsky

Universal history is the history of a few metaphors. ~ Jorge Luis Borges

History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past trying to reconstruct its themes, revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passions of former days. ~ Winston Churchill

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. ~ George Orwell

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. ~ Albert Einstein

Because men really respect only that which was founded of old and has developed slowly, he who wants to live on after his death must take care not only of his posterity but even more of his past. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

With memory set smarting like a reopened wound, a man's past is not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present: it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame. ~ George Eliot

Antiquities are history defaced, or some remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time. ~ Francis Bacon

One's past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be judged. ~ Oscar Wilde

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet. ~ Cyril Connolly

What is past is prologue. ~ Shakespeare

My future will not copy fair my past / On any leaf but Heaven's. ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In its tenacious hold on tradition, the Old has never hesitated to make use of the foulest and cruelest means to stay the advent of the New. ~ Emma Goldman

The best of prophets of the future is the past. ~ Byron

Study history. Study history. In history lie all the secrets of statecraft. ~ Winston Churchill