- It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits - like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits - involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding - inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention.
- I wonder whether, in the history of all the civilisations that have ever been, a more insanely optimistic notion has ever been entertained than that you and I, mortal, puny creatures, may yet aspire, with God's grace and Christ's help, to be reborn into what St Paul calls the glorious liberty of the children of God. Or if there was ever a more abysmally pessimistic one than that we, who reach out with our minds and our aspirations to the stars and beyond, should be able so to arrange our lives, so to eat and drink and fornicate and learn and frolic, that our brief span in this world fulfils all our hopes and desires.
- The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves at home here on earth.
- The first thing I remember about the world:is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling, which is at once the glory and desolation of homo sapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can detect in my life.
- Animistic savages prostrating themselves before a painted stone have always seemed to me to be nearer the truth than any Einstein or Bertrand Russell.
- There is something ridiculous and even quite indecent in an individual claiming to be happy. Still more a people or a nation making such a claim. The pursuit of happiness: is without any question the most fatuous which could possibly be undertaken. This lamentable phrase ''the pursuit of happiness'' is responsible for a good part of the ills and miseries of the modern world.
- I am standing in the wings of a theatre waiting for my cue to go onstage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this play at all, but belong to quite a different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder frenziedly what should I do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way onto the stage, and then look for guidance to the prompter, whose head i can just see rising out of the floor-boards. Alas he only signals helplessly to me and I realise of course that his script is different from mine. I begin to speak my lines, but they are incomprehensible to the other actors and abhorrent to the audience, who begins to his and shout: 'Get off the stage!', 'Let the play go on!', 'You're interrupting!'. I am paralysed and can think of nothing to do but to go on standing there and speaking my lines that don't fit. The only lines I know.