In all distresses of our friends,
we first consult our private ends
As a satirist, human nature was Jonathan Swift’s basic raw material. He used it brilliantly, pointing out our foibles and failings with unswerving accuracy.
It should always be remembered when reading Swift that he was a satirist and used irony to great effect. It means many of his quotes mean exactly the opposite of their literal meaning.
It should also be noted that Swift’s observations about human nature weren’t always critical. Sometimes, he saw goodness in people that they could barely recognise themselves, as in the first quote below which many people have found inspirational.
Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps as few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of, and in your nature, there lies hidden rich mines of thought and purpose awaiting your development.
I must complain the cards are ill shuffled till I have a good hand.
’Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery ’s the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit.
Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Flattery is the worst and falsest way of showing our esteem.
Some men, under the notion of weeding out prejudices, eradicate virtue, honesty, and religion.
Human brutes, like other beasts, find snares and poison in the provision of life, and are allured by their appetites to their destruction.
Most sorts of diversion in men, children and other animals, are an imitation of fighting.
I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying… that he is wiser today than yesterday.
A lie does not consist in the indirect position of words, but in the desire and intention, by false speaking, to deceive and injure your neighbour.
Two women seldom grow intimate but at the expense of a third person.
She looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
All fits of pleasure are balanced by an equal degree of pain or languor; it is like spending this year part of the next year’s revenues.
There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake, though all the World sees them to be in downright nonsense.
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