An aphorism is nothing else but the slightest
form of writing raised to the highest level of expressive communication. Carl William Brown





In writing biography, fact and fiction shouldn't be mixed. And if they are, the fictional points should be printed in red ink, the facts printed in black ink.


Catherine Drinker Bowen (1897-1973, American author)


Biography is one of the new terrors of death.


John Arbuthnot (1667-1735, Grampian-born physician and writer)


Every autobiography is concerned with two characters, a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self.


W. H. Auden (1907-1973, Anglo-American poet)


Just as there is nothing between the admirable omelet and the intolerable, so it is with autobiography.


Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953, British author)


A man's memory is bound to be a distortion of his past in accordance with his present interests, and the most faithful autobiography is likely to mirror less what a man was than what he has become.


Fawn M. Brodie (1915-1981, American biographer)


Show me a character whose life arouses my curiosity, and my flesh begins crawling with suspense.


Fawn M. Brodie (1915-1981, American biographer)


Show me a character whose life arouses my curiosity, and my flesh begins crawling with suspense.


Fawn M. Brodie (1915-1981, American biographer)


Biography should be written by an acute enemy.


Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930, British Prime Minister)


The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he hoped to make it.


James M. Barrie (1860-1937, British playwright)


Anyone who attempts to relate his life loses himself in the immediate. One can only speak of another.


Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-, Paraguayan novelist)


Reminiscences, even extensive ones, do not always amount to an autobiography. For autobiography has to do with time, with sequence and what makes up the continuous flow of life. Here, I am talking of a space, of moments and discontinuities. For even if months and years appear here, it is in the form they have in the moment of recollection. This strange form -- it may be called fleeting or eternal -- is in neither case the stuff that life is made of.


Walter Benjamin (1982-1940, German critic, philosopher)


Biographical data, even those recorded in the public registers, are the most private things one has, and to declare them openly is rather like facing a psychoanalyst.


Italo Calvino (1923-1985, Cuban writer, essayist, journalist)


When you write down your life, every page should contain something no one has ever heard about.


Elias Canetti (1905-1994, Austrian novelist, philosopher)


Such reproductions may not interest the reader; but after all, this is my autobiography, not his; he is under no obligation to read further in it; he was under none to begin. A modest or inhibited autobiography is written without entertainment to the writer and read with distrust by the reader.


Neville Cardus


A well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish philosopher, author)


History is the essence of innumerable biographies.


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish philosopher, author)


If those gentlemen would let me alone I should be much obliged to them. I would say, as Shakespeare would say, "Sweet Friend, for Jesus sake forbear."


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish philosopher, author)


No sooner does a great man depart, and leave his character as public property, than a crowd of little men rush towards it. There they are gathered together, blinking up to it with such vision as they have, scanning it from afar, hovering round it this way and that, each cunningly endeavoring, by all arts, to catch some reflex of it in the little mirror of himself.


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish philosopher, author)


No sooner does a great man depart, and leave his character as public property, than a crowd of little men rush towards it. There they are gathered together, blinking up to it with such vision as they have, scanning it from afar, hovering round it this way and that, each cunningly endeavoring, by all arts, to catch some reflex of it in the little mirror of himself.


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, Scottish philosopher, author)


There are people who can write their memoirs with a reasonable amount of honesty, and there are people who simply cannot take themselves seriously enough. I think I might be the first to admit that the sort of reticence which prevents a man from exploiting his own personality is really an inverted sort of egotism.


Raymond Chandler (1888-1959, American author)


An autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing.


Quentin Crisp (1908-1999, British author)


We can only write well about our sins because it is too difficult to recall a virtuous act or even whether it was the result of good or evil motives.


Edward Dahlberg (1900-1977, American author, critic)


Democratic societies are unfit for the publication of such thunderous revelations as I am in the habit of making.


Salvador Dali (1904-1989, Spanish painter)


The secret of biography resides in finding the link between talent and achievement. A biography seems irrelevant if it doesn't discover the overlap between what the individual did and the life that made this possible. Without discovering that, you have shapeless happenings and gossip.


Leon Edel (1907-1997, American biographer)


My Turn is the distilled bathwater of Mrs. Reagan's life. It is for the most part sweetish, with a tart edge of rebuke, but disappointingly free of dirt or particulate matter of any kind.


Barbara Ehrenreich (1941-, American author, columnist)


It is long ere we discover how rich we are. Our history, we are sure, is quite tame: we have nothing to write, nothing to infer. But our wiser years still run back to the despised recollections of childhood, and always we are fishing up some wonderful article out of that pond; until, by and by, we begin to suspect that the biography of the one foolish person we know is, in reality, nothing less than the miniature paraphrase of the hundred volumes of the Universal History.


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882, American poet, essayist)


A biography is like a handshake down the years, that can become an arm-wrestle.


Richard Holmes


There is properly no history; only biography.


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882, American poet, essayist)


Biography is history seen through the prism of a person.


Louis Fischer


There never was a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn't be. He is too many people, if he's any good.


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940, American writer)

Author's website:


That which resembles most living one's life over again, seems to be to recall all the circumstances of it; and, to render this remembrance more durable, to record them in writing.


Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790, American scientist, publisher, diplomat)


Biography is: a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.


Jose Ortega Y Gasset (1883-1955, Spanish essayist, philosopher)


The surrounding that householders crave are glorified autobiographies.


T. H. Gibblings


Truth, naked, unblushing truth, the first virtue of all serious history, must be the sole recommendation of this personal narrative.


Edward Gibbon (1737-1794, British historian)


I don't think anybody should write his autobiography until after he's dead.


Samuel Goldwyn (1882-1974, American film producer, founder of MGM)


Autobiography is an unrivaled vehicle for telling the truth about other people.


Philip Guedalla (1889-1944, British writer)


Biography is a very definite region bounded on the north by history, on the south by fiction, on the east by obituary, and on the west by tedium.


Philip Guedalla (1889-1944, British writer)


If the reviewing of books be... "an ungentle craft," the making of them is, for the most part, a dishonest one -- and that department of literature which ought to be entrusted to those only who are distinguished for their moral qualities is, not infrequently, in the hands of authors totally devoid of good taste, good feeling, and generous sentiment. The writers of Lives have, in our time, assumed a license not enjoyed by their more scrupulous predecessors -- for they interweave the adventures of the living with the memoirs of the dead; and, pretending to portray the peculiarities which sometimes mark the man of genius, they invade the privacy and disturb the peace of his surviving associates.


John Cam Hobhouse


Autobiography is now as common as adultery and hardly less reprehensible.


John Grigg


Autobiography is a preemptive strike against biographers.


Barbara Grizzuti Harrison (1941-, American author, publicist)


The remarkable thing is that it is the crowded life that is most easily remembered. A life full of turns, achievements, disappointments, surprises, and crises is a life full of landmarks. The empty life has even its few details blurred, and cannot be remembered with certainty.


Eric Hoffer (1902-1983, American author, philosopher)


Many heroes lived before Agamemnon; but all are unknown and unwept, extinguished in everlasting night, because they have no spirited chronicler.


Horace (BC 65-8, Italian poet)


Nobody can write the life of a man but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social intercourse with him.


Samuel Johnson (1709-1784, British author)


On the trail of another man, the biographer must put up with finding himself at every turn; any biography uneasily shelters an autobiography within it.


Paul Murray Kendall


The record of one's life must needs prove more interesting to him who writes it than to him who reads what has been written.


Sister Elizabeth Kenny


I am being frank about myself in this book. I tell of my first mistake on page 850.


Henry Kissinger (1923-, American Secretary of State)


The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can't fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland. If you write about yourself the slightest deviation makes you realize instantly that there may be honor among thieves, but you are just a dirty liar.


Groucho Marx (1895-1977, American comic actor)


A great biography should, like the close of a great drama, leave behind it a feeling of serenity. We collect into a small bunch the flowers, the few flowers, which brought sweetness into a life, and present it as an offering to an accomplished destiny. It is the dying refrain of a completed song, the final verse of a finished poem.


Andre Maurois (1885-1967, French writer)


Memoirs are the backstairs of history.


George Meredith (1828-1909, British author)


The first thing to be done by a biographer in estimating character is to examine the stubs of his victim's check-books.


Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914, Physician, writer, poet)


Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.


George Orwell (1903-1950, British author, "Animal Farm")


All those writers who write about their childhood! Gentle God, if I wrote about mine you wouldn't sit in the same room with me.


Dorothy Parker (1893-1967, American humorous writer)


I have not much interest in anyone's personal history after the tenth year, not even my own. Whatever one was going to be was all prepared before that.


Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980, American short-story writer, novelist)


There ain't nothing that breaks up homes, country, and nations like somebody publishing their memoirs.


Will Rogers (1879-1935, American humorist, actor)


When you put down the good things you ought to have done, and leave out the bad ones you did do -- well, that's Memoirs.


Will Rogers (1879-1935, American humorist, actor)


I write fiction and I'm told it's autobiography, I write autobiography and I'm told it's fiction, so since I'm so dim and they're so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn't.


Philip Roth (1933-, American novelist)


It isn't that you subordinate your ideas to the force of the facts in autobiography but that you construct a sequence of stories to bind up the facts with a persuasive hypothesis that unravels your history's meaning.


Philip Roth (1933-, American novelist)


If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it.


J. D. Salinger (1919-, American author)


Members rise from CMG (known sometimes in Whitehall as "Call Me God") to KCMG ("Kindly Call Me God") to GCMG ("God Calls Me God").


Anthony Sampson


The facts of a person's life will, like murder, come out.


Norman Sherry


Autobiographies ought to begin with Chapter Two.


Ellery Sedgwick


What pursuit is more elegant than that of collecting the ignominies of our nature and transfixing them for show, each on the bright pin of a polished phrase?


Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946, Anglo-American essayist, aphorist)


The immense majority of human biographies are a gray transit between domestic spasm and oblivion.


George Steiner (1929-, French-born American critic, novelist)


Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.


Mark Twain (1835-1910, American humorist, writer)


There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.


Mark Twain (1835-1910, American humorist, writer)


Anyone who profits from the experience of others probably writes biographies.


Author Unknown


For what is a poem, but a hazardous attempt at self-understanding. It is the deepest part of autobiography.


Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989, American writer, poet)


Don't give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can't express them. Don't analyze yourself. Give the relevant facts and let your readers make their own judgments. Stick to your story. It is not the most important subject in history but it is one about which you are uniquely qualified to speak.


Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966, British novelist)


Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.


Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966, British novelist)


To write the lives of the great, in separating them from their works, necessarily ends by above all stressing their pettiness, because it is in their work that they have put the best of themselves.


Simone Weil (1910-1943, French philosopher, mystic)


When my journal appears, many statues must come down.


Arthur (Duke of Wellington) Wellesley (1769-1852, British statesman, military leader)


All good biography, as all good fiction, comes down to the study of original sin, of our inherent disposition to choose death when we ought to choose life.


Rebecca West (1892-1983, British author)


Just how difficult it is to write a biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or her love affairs.


Rebecca West (1892-1983, British author)


Formerly we used to canonize our heroes. The modern method is to vulgarize them. Cheap editions of great books may be delightful, but cheap editions of great men are absolutely detestable.


Oscar Wilde (1856-1900, British author, wit)


I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories or have never done anything worth remembering.


Oscar Wilde (1856-1900, British author, wit)


Biography is a higher gossip.


Robert Winder


Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders.


Virginia Woolf (1882-1941, British novelist, essayist)


Thus when I come to shape here at this table between my hands the story of my life and set it before you as a complete thing, I have to recall things gone far, gone deep, sunk into this life or that and become part of it; dreams, too, things surrounding me, and the inmates, those old half-articulate ghosts who keep up their hauntings by day and night... shadows of people one might have been; unborn selves.


Virginia Woolf (1882-1941, British novelist, essayist)


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