Musings of Ernest Hemingway

Readers of By George Journal will know one of our oft-quoted authors is Ernest Hemingway. Here are some favourite quotes.

  • Courage is grace under pressure.
  • Man is not made for defeat.
  • Never mistake motion for action.
  • Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
  • Nobody knows what’s in him until he tries to pull it out. If there’s nothing or very little, the shock can kill a man.
  • There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things, and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.
  • What is moral is what you feel good after.
  • A big lie is more plausible than truth.
  • When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.
  • In answer to the most frightening thing he ever encountered – “a blank sheet of paper.”
  • The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector.
  • A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it (you lose it if you talk about it).
  • All you have to do is write one true sentence.
  • Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel. There is no rule on how it is to write.
  • There’s no one thing that is true. They’re all true.
  • There is no friend as loyal as a book.
  • My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
  • There are events which are so great that if a writer has participated in them his obligation is to write truly rather than assume the presumption of altering them with invention.
  • All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.
  • Writing, at its best, is a lonely life… for he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
  • That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward.
  • Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.
  • Survival, with honor, that outmoded and all-important word, is as difficult as ever and as all-important to a writer. Those who do not last are always more beloved since no one has to see them in their long, dull, unrelenting, no-quarter-given-and-no-quarter-received, fights that they make to do something as they believe it should be done before they die. Those who die or quit early and easy and with every good reason are preferred because they are understandable and human. Failure and well-disguised cowardice are more human and more beloved.
  • To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors.
  • All things truly wicked start from an innocence.

(ed. – This list was previously posted in By George Journal in Summer 2009.)


3 thoughts on “Musings of Ernest Hemingway

  1. MalinaP

    Please, could you help me with a piece of information?
    It would really be of a great help if you told me what book does the quote “Nobody knows what’s in him until he tries to pull it out. If there’s nothing or very little, the shock can kill a man.” come from. And if you could also tell me the page…
    Thank you in advance!

    1. CG


      This quote comes from the publication “Papa Hemingway” written by A.E. Hotchner. Hemingway is attributed to having said this to Hotch.

      I do not have a page reference… although I am now moved to re-read this book. It’s an excellent account of Hemingway’s life, told by a good, close friend.


  2. CG

    “Nobody knows what’s in him until he tries to pull it out. If there’s nothing or very little, the shock can kill a man.”

    “Papa Hemingway” A.E. Hotchner, pg 56 of the 1972 reprinted paperback version…. in the Chapter #3 Paris, 1950 when Hemingway was recounting a story about Scott Fitzgerald and Max Perkins.


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