The Top 10 Literary Quotes About History and the Passage of Time

I’m a collector, and one of the things I collect is quotes from the books I read. These quotes make me think about mortality and the bittersweet passage of time. Do you have any favorite quotes about history or time in general?

1. Each of us is all the sums he has not counted; subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas. . . . Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years.
— Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

2. We learn from history that we do not learn from history.
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

3. All things are wearisome, more than one can express . . . What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”
— Ecclesiastes, 1:8-9

4. We could never have loved the earth so well if we had no childhood in it — if it were not the earth where the same flowers come up again every spring that we used to gather with our tiny fingers as we sat lisping to ourselves on the grass . . .
— George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

5. As you got older, and felt yourself to be at the center of your time, and not at a point in its circumference, as you had felt when you were little, you were seized with a sort of shuddering, he perceived.
— Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

6. There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;–
Turn whereso’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
— William Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

7. ‘We are going simply to see the old trees, the old ruins; to pass a day in old times, surrounded by olden silence, and above all by quietude.’
— Charlotte Bronte, Shirley

8. Presently he rose and approached the case before which she stood. Its glass shelves were crowded with small broken objects – hardly recognizable domestic utensils, ornaments and personal trifles – made of glass, of clay, of discoloured bronze and other time-blurred substances.
‘It seems cruel,’ she said, ‘that after a while nothing matters . . . any more than these little things, that used to be necessary and important to forgotten people, and now have to be guessed at under a magnifying glass and labeled: “Use unknown”.’
— Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

9. It is human life. We are blown upon the world; we float buoyantly upon the summer air a little while, complacently showing off our grace of form and our dainty iridescent colors; then we vanish with a little puff, leaving nothing behind but a memory – and sometimes not even that. I suppose that at those solemn times when we wake in the deeps of the night and reflect, there is not one of us who is not willing to confess that he is really only a soap-bubble, and as little worth the making.
— Mark Twain, Autobiography

10. I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.
— From Nikos Kazantzakis’ tombstone

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