The captain of my soul…

“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud: Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody but unbowed… It matters not how strait the gait, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” (William Ernest Henley, 1849-1903, from ‘Invictus’, more precisely titled: Echoes, No4, In Memoriam RT Hamilton Bruce, written in 1888.)


“Everybody can get angry, that’s easy. But getting angry at the right person, with the right intensity, at the right time, for the right reason and in the right way, that’s hard.” (attributed to Aristotle)

“Politics is the art of the possible.” (Prince Otto von Bismarck, 1867)

“We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.” (Aneurin Bevan, British statesman, 1897-1960 – sometimes quoted as ‘run over’ instead of ‘run down’, and apparently reported in The Observer newspaper, 1953.)

“Even if you think you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” (Will Rogers, American cowboy, actor and humorist. Ack N Borkowski)

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” (Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, 3rd President of the USA – not Samuel Jefferson as previously stated in error here, thanks J Schaefer)

“Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” (Dr Stephen Covey) N.B. Stephen Covey’s maxim closely resembles a couple of lines from the ‘Peace Prayer of St Francis of Assisi’ which typically shows the sentiment as “….grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand;…”.

Interestingly although the prayer is eponymously titled and widely attributed to St Francis no-one actually knows its true origins. The prayer was apparently first published in a small spiritual magazine La Clochette in 1912 by a Catholic association called La League de la Sainte-Messa, under the auspice of its founder Father Esther Bouquerel.

At this time the prayer was not attributed to St Francis; it appeared as an anonymous item.

Significantly around 1920 the prayer was printed by a French Franciscan priest on the reverse of an image of St Francis, titled ‘Priere pour la Paix’ (Prayer for Peace), but again anonymously.

This however seems to have led to the subsequent attribution of the prayer to St Francis, initially by a French Protestant movement, ‘Les Chevaliers du Prince de la Paix’ (the Knights of the Prince of Peace) in 1927; later by Kirby Page, a minister and writer, in his 1936 book ‘Living Dangerously’; and also in US Cardinal Spellman’s books around the late 1930’s and 1940’s. (Source:, which refers to the research of Dr Christian Renoux into this prayer, and which is summarised above. I am also grateful to Thomas Ryan for alerting me to the fact that the prayer existed before Covey’s quote.)

“Management means helping people to get the best out of themselves, not organizing things.” (Lauren Appley)

“He who wishes to talk well must first think well.” (Origin unknown)

“When you speak, your speech should be better than your silence would have been.” (Origin unknown)

“It’s not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with the sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919, 26th US President and 1906 Nobel Peace Prize-winner.)

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?” (Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948, Indian spiritual leader, humanitarian and constitutional independence reformer.)

“Experto Credite.” (“Trust one who has proved it.” Virgil, 2,000 years ago.)

“Life is like a very short visit to a toyshop between birth and death.” (Desmond Morris, 1991.)

“Whoever in debate quotes authority uses not intellect, but memory.” (Leonardo Da Vinci)

“If you don’t agree with me it means you haven’t been listening.” (Sam Markewich.)

“The world is divided into people who do things, and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There’s far less competition.” (Dwight Morrow, 1935.)

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” (Samuel Johnson.)

“This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.” (Sir Winston Churchill.)

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” (attributed to Confucius, Chinese philosopher, 551-479 BC, however the origins of this quote are arguably from the writing of the Chinese scholar Xunzi, 340-245 BC, for which clearer evidence seems to exist. The origin of the quote attributed to Confucius is not certain.

“When you are thirsty, it’s too late to dig a well.” (Japanese Proverb.)

“You can’t clear the swamp when you’re up to your arse in alligators.” (Traditional, unknown.)

“The future of work consists of learning a living.” (Marshall McLuhan, 1911-1980.)

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” (Bert Lance, member of Jimmy Carter’s US government, 1977.)

“The best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” (John F Kennedy)

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900.)

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” (Nietzsche.)

“What does not kill us makes us stronger.” (attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, 1844-1900, based on his words: “Out of life’s school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” from The Twilight of the Idols, 1899.)

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” (Linus Pauling, 1901-1994, Nobel Laureate in chemistry and Nobel peace prize winner for his efforts to have above-ground nuclear testing banned – the only person to ever win two unshared Nobel prizes. Ack Dr K Bennett)

“What is worth doing is worth the trouble of asking somebody to do it.” (Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1914.)

“Behind an able man there are always other able men.” (Chinese Proverb.)

“Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them.” (Adlai Stevenson, 1900-1965.)

“I have always said that if I were a rich man I’d hire a professional praiser.” (Sir Osbert Sitwell, 1892-1969.)

“A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honourable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” (George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950.)

“Managers are people who never put off until tomorrow what they can get somebody else to do today.” (Unknown.)

“Not in doing what you like best, in liking what you do is the secret of happiness.” (Sir James Matthew Barrie, aka J M Barrie, 1860-1937, Scottish novelist and playwright – creator of Peter Pan, 1904)

“I praise loudly. I blame softly.” (Catherine the Great, 1729-1796.)

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence.” (Abigail Adams in 1780. Thanks to John Mcgregor)

“The cream always rises to the top.” (Unknown)

The ‘Cream rises’ quote often prompts a reply when pointing to leaders of low repute, notably politicians and corporate chiefs of dishonest and untrustworthy character: “Yes but garbage floats too…” (Thanks B Taylor)

“Nature abhors a vacuum.” (generally attributed to Benedict de Spinoza [aka Baruch – Hebrew name], 1632-77, Dutch philosopher and theologian, born of Jewish family in Amsterdam, the quote is from ‘Ethics’ [Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata], published posthumously 1677, Part I, Proposition, [the Everyman edition, translated by Adam Boyle].

During his lifetime Benedict de Spinoza’s work was regarded as atheistical and subversive, and led to his expulsion from the Jewish community for heresy in 1656. His ideas grew in popularity with support after his death notably from Lessing, Goethe, Coleridge, and he is now regarded by professional philosophers as one of the great rationalist thinkers of the 17th century. [Source Bartletts Quotations and Chambers Biographies.]

Interestingly however, Brewer in his 1870 dictionary attributes the expression to the Italian astronomer and all-round genuis Galileo, 1564-1642, who apparently used the expression ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ in describing how a water pump works. If Brewer was correct – and there is no reason to doubt him – then Galileo’s use of the expression could well have predated the commonly referenced Benedict de Spinoza origin.)

“We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God…” (Chief Joseph, 1840-1904, of the Nez Percé Native Americans. With thanks to

“You’ve got to be before you can do, and you’ve got to do before you can have.” (Zig Ziglar)

“What is fame? an empty bubble; Gold? a transient shining trouble.” (James Grainger, from ‘Solitude’, 1755)


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