Best History & Historians Quotes I Wish I Had Read

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History & Historians Quotes

Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865, Sixteenth President of the USA)


A land without ruins is a land without memories — a land without memories is a land without history.

Abram Joseph Ryan


Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.

African Proverb


In our wildest aberrations we dream of an equilibrium we have left behind and which we naively expect to find at the end of our errors. Childish presumption which justifies the fact that child-nations, inheriting our follies, are now directing our history.

Albert Camus (1913-1960, French Existential Writer)


Providence conceals itself in the details of human affairs, but becomes unveiled in the generalities of history.

Alphonse De Lamartine (1790-1869, French Poet, Statesman, Historian)


Historian. A broad — gauge gossip.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914, American Author, Editor, Journalist, “The Devil’s Dictionary”)


An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914, American Author, Editor, Journalist, “The Devil’s Dictionary”)


History books that contain no lies are extremely dull.

Anatole France (1844-1924, French Writer)


It is humiliating to remain with our hands folded while others write history. It matters little who wins. To make a people great it is necessary to send them to battle even if you have to kick them in the pants. That is what I shall do.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945, Italian Prime Minister (1922–43) and Dictator)


History repeats itself. That’s one of the things wrong with history.

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938, American Lawyer)


People will not look forward to posterity who will not look backward to their ancestors.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797, British Political Writer, Statesman)


History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794, British Historian)


The historian must have some conception of how men who are not historians behave. Otherwise he will move in a world of the dead. He can only gain that conception through personal experience, and he can only use his personal experiences when he is a genius.

Edward M. Forster (1879-1970, British Novelist, Essayist)


The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983, American Author, Philosopher)


The history of the past interests us only in so far as it illuminates the history of the present.

Ernest Dimnet (1866-1954, French Clergyman)


Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626, British Philosopher, Essayist, Statesman)


It is the true office of history to represent the events themselves, together with the counsels, and to leave the observations and conclusions thereupon to the liberty and faculty of every man’s judgment.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626, British Philosopher, Essayist, Statesman)


The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Friedrich Hegel


History tells us more than we want to know about what is wrong with man, and we can hardly turn a page in the daily press without learning the specific time, place, and name of evil. But perhaps the most pervasive evil of all rarely appears in the news. This evil, the waste of human potential, is particularly painful to recognize for it strikes our parents and children, our friends and brothers, ourselves.

George Leonard


History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten.

George Santayana (1863-1952, American Philosopher, Poet)


We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.

George Washington (1732-1799, First President of the USA)


While we read history we make history.

George William Curtis (1824-1892, American Journalist)


Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man and fable tells us about a million men.

Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936, British Author)


Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880, French Novelist)


I can see only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen.

H(erbert) A(lbert) L(aurens) Fisher (1865-1940, British Writer)


Historian — an unsuccessful novelist.

L. Mencken (1880-1956, American Editor, Author, Critic, Humorist)


Human history in essence is the history of ideas.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946, British-born American Author)


History is a race between education and catastrophe.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946, British-born American Author)


Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946, British-born American Author)


Study men, not historians.

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972, Thirty-third President of the USA)


History is more or less bunk.

Henry Ford (1863-1947, American Industrialist, Founder of Ford Motor Company)


Caesar had perished from the world of men, had not his sword been rescued by his pen.

Henry Vaughan (1622-1695, Welsh Poet)


You treat world history as a mathematician does mathematics, in which nothing but laws and formulas exist, no reality, no good and evil, no time, no yesterday, no tomorrow, nothing but an eternal, shallow, mathematical present.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962, German-born Swiss Novelist, Poet)


The first duty of an historian is to be on guard against his own sympathies.

James A. Froude (1818-1894, British Historian)


History is a better guide than good intentions.

Jeane Kirkpatrick (1926-, American Stateswoman, Academic)


Might does not make right, it only makes history.

Jim Fiebig


Historians are prophets with their face turned backward.

Johann Friedrich Von Schiller (1759-1805, German Dramatist, Poet, Historian)


The history of mankind is his character.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832, German Poet, Dramatist, Novelist)


The Thames is liquid history.

John Burns


The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Karl Marx (1818-1883, German Political Theorist, Social Philosopher)


The men who make history have not time to write it.

Klemens Von Metternich (1773-1859, Austrian Statesman)


History is the devil’s scripture.

Lord Byron (1788-1824, British Poet)


And having wisdom with each studious year, in meditation dwelt, with learning wrought, and shaped his weapon with an edge severe, sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer.

Lord Byron (1788-1824, British Poet)


History is but a confused heap of facts.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773, British Statesman, Author)


Ignorance is the first requisite of the historian — ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art.

Lytton Strachey


To believe what has not occurred in history will not occur at all, is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948, Indian Political, Spiritual Leader)


Not to know what has been transacted in former times is to be always a child. If no use is made of the labors of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge.

Marcus T. Cicero (106-43 BC, Great Roman Orator, Politician)


The causes of events are ever more interesting than the events themselves.

Marcus T. Cicero (106-43 BC, Great Roman Orator, Politician)


History is strewn thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill, but a lie, well told, is immortal.

Mark Twain (1835-1910, American Humorist, Writer)


I love those historians that are either very simple or most excellent. Such as are between both (which is the most common fashion), it is they that spoil all; they will needs chew our meat for us and take upon them a law to judge, and by consequence to square and incline the story according to their fantasy.

Michel Eyquem De Montaigne (1533-1592, French Philosopher, Essayist)



For historians ought to be precise, truthful, and quite unprejudiced, and neither interest nor fear, hatred nor affection, should cause them to swerve from the path of truth, whose mother is history, the rival of time, the depository of great actions, the witness of what is past, the example and instruction of the present, the monitor of the future.

Miguel De Cervantes (1547-1616, Spanish Novelist, Dramatist, Poet)


From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, French General, Emperor)


What is all our histories, but God showing himself, shaking and trampling on everything that he has not planted.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658, Parliamentarian General, Lord Protector of England)


A page of history is worth a pound of logic.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894, American Author, Wit, Poet)


Every library should try to be complete on something, if it were only the history of pinheads.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894, American Author, Wit, Poet)


Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.

Oscar Wilde (1856-1900, British Author, Wit)


To give an accurate description of what has never occurred is not merely the proper occupation of the historian, but the inalienable privilege of any man of parts and culture.

Oscar Wilde (1856-1900, British Author, Wit)


The main thing is to make history, not to write it.

Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898, Prussian Statesman, Prime Minister)


The historian’s job is to aggrandize, promoting accident to inevitability and innocuous circumstance to portent.

Peter Conrad (1948-, Australian Critic, Author)


However gradual the course of history, there must always be the day, even an hour and minute, when some significant action is performed for the first or last time.

Peter Quennell


History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other.

Philip Guedalla (1889-1944, British Writer)


To be ignorant of the lives of the most celebrated men of antiquity is to continue in a state of childhood all our days.

Plutarch (46-120 AD, Greek Essayist, Biographer)


The pyramids, attached with age, have forgotten the names of their founders.

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983, American Inventor, Designer, Poet, Philosopher)


Our best history is still poetry.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882, American Poet, Essayist)


Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.

Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968, American Attorney General, Senator)


A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.

Robert Heinlein (1907-1988, American Science Fiction Writer)


God cannot alter the past, but historians can.

Samuel Butler (1612-1680, British Poet, Satirist)


Great abilities are not requisite for an Historian; for in historical composition, all the greatest powers of the human mind are quiescent. He has facts ready to his hand; so there is no exercise of invention. Imagination is not required in any degree; only about as much as is used in the lowest kinds of poetry. Some penetration, accuracy, and coloring, will fit a man for the task, if he can give the application which is necessary.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784, British Author)


It does seem so pleasant to talk with an old acquaintance who knows what you know. I see so many new folks nowadays who seem to have neither past nor future. Conversation has got to have some root in the past, or else you have got to explain every remark you make, and it wears a person out.

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909, American Author)


Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation. We are doomed to be forever hailing someone who has just gone around the corner and out of earshot.

Simon Schama


To give an accurate and exhaustive account of that period would need a far less brilliant pen than mine.

Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956, British Actor)


Historians desiring to write the actions of men, ought to set down the simple truth, and not say anything for love or hatred; also to choose such an opportunity for writing as it may be lawful to think what they will, and write what they think, which is a rare happiness of the time.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618, British Courtier, Navigator, Writer)



History, is made up of the bad actions of extraordinary men and woman. All the most noted destroyers and deceivers of our species, all the founders of arbitrary governments and false religions have been extraordinary people; and nine tenths of the calamities that have befallen the human race had no other origin than the union of high intelligence with low desires.

Thomas B. Macaulay (1800-1859, American Essayist and Historian)


History is the distillation of rumor.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish Philosopher, Author)


Stern accuracy in inquiring, bold imagination in describing, these are the cogs on which history soars or flutters and wobbles.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish Philosopher, Author)


The whole past is the procession of the present.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish Philosopher, Author)


The history of the world is but the biography of great men.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish Philosopher, Author)


One cannot be a good historian of the outward, visible world without giving some thought to the hidden, private life of ordinary people; and on the other hand one cannot be a good historian of this inner life without taking into account outward events where these are relevant. They are two orders of fact which reflect each other, which are always linked and which sometimes provoke each other.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885, French Poet, Dramatist, Novelist)


History is nothing but a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.

Voltaire (1694-1778, French Historian, Writer)


History is just the portrayal of crimes and misfortunes.

Voltaire (1694-1778, French Historian, Writer)


He is the purest figure in history. [About George Washington]

William E. Gladstone (1809-1888, British Liberal Prime Minister, Statesman)


One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

William J. Durant (1885-1981, American Historian, Essayist)


There is a history in all men’s lives.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616, British Poet, Playwright, Actor)


For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965, British Statesman, Prime Minister)


More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Woody Allen (1935-, American Director, Screenwriter, Actor, Comedian)

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