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Quotations about Generations



It is one of nature's ways that we often feel closer to distant generations than to the generation immediately preceding us. ~Igor Stravinsky


So you will fail, as we have; and you will laugh, as we have — but not so heartily, we insist; no one has ever laughed the way your tremulous granfers did, old chap! And you will go on about your business, as we did, and be just as certain that you and your concerns are the very climax of human gravity and worth. ~Christopher Morley, "To a New Yorker a Hundred Years Hence," 1921


The commonest axiom of history is that every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers. ~Lewis Mumford, The Brown Decades: A Study of the Arts in America, 1865–1895, 1931


...you may be surprised to find those ancient people so much like people today. Some as gentle, some as savage. It seems a very long time ago when the Achaeans had just come out of the north to Greece to start what we call western civilization. Three thousand years ago. But three thousand years is only about a hundred lifetimes. From father to son to son and so on, a hundred lifetimes is only a hundred people. You can't imagine the billions of your ancestors even a few hundred years ago, but you can imagine every person in one direct line... They wouldn't fill all the seats in a modern transport plane. ~Harry Behn (1898–1973), The Faraway Lurs, 1963


The older generation thought nothing of getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning — and the younger generation doesn't think so much of it either. ~Author unknown, c.1944


A father lives after death in his son. ~Sanskrit proverb


As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies.
~Homer, The Iliad


The sap of another generation
fingering through a broken tree
to push fresh branches
towards a further light,
a different identity.
~John Montague (b.1929), from "The Living & The Dead"


We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. ~Fight Club, 1999, screenplay by Jim Uhls, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk  [Tyler Durden, about Generation X —tg]


I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine. ~John Adams, 1780


It is the precious unity of mankind in all ages, the compassion and love felt by the understanding spirit for those, its resting kinsmen, who once were glad and miserable in these same scenes. It keeps one aware of that marvellous dark river of human life that runs, down and down uncountably, to the unexplored sea of Time. ~Christopher Morley, "To a New Yorker a Hundred Years Hence," 1921


Up and down the long grassy aisles of the graveyard they wandered, reading the quaint, voluminous epitaphs, carved in an age that had more leisure than our own. ~L. M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island, 1915


On the green they watched their sons
      Playing till too dark to see,
As their fathers watched them once,
      As my father once watched me...
~Edmund Blunden, "Forefathers"


When women feel they have learned to forgive their mothers — and men, their fathers — all it usually means is that they've decided to allow themselves the same kind of behavior. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1963


The first half of our lives is usually ruined by our parents, the second half by our children. ~Newspaper joke from the mid-1940s


The healthiest among us is not exempt from hereditary disease. The most symmetrical, athletic, and long-lived is a being inexpressibly inferior to what he would have been had not the unnatural habits of his ancestors accumulated for him a certain portion of malady and deformity... Can a return to nature, then, instantaneously eradicate predispositions that have been slowly taking root in the silence of innumerable ages? — Indubitably not. ~William Andrus Alcott (1798–1859), Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men, and by Experience in All Ages, 1838


Men fight for liberty, and win it with hard knocks.
Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools.
And their grandchildren are once more slaves.
~D. H. Lawrence, "Liberty's Old Old Story," Pansies, 1929


You seem a long way off, I say — and yet it is but an instant, and you will be here. Do you know that feeling, I wonder (so characteristic of our city) that a man has in an elevator bound (let us say) for the eighteenth floor? He sees 5 and 6 and 7 flit by, and he wonders how he can ever live through the interminable time that must elapse before he will get to his stopping place and be about the task of the moment. It is only a few seconds, but his mind can evolve a whole honeycomb of mysteries in that flash of dragging time. Then the door slides open before him and that instantaneous eternity is gone; he is in a new era... Before we have time to turn three times in our chairs, we shall be the grandparents and you will be smiling at our old-fashioned sentiments. ~Christopher Morley, "To a New Yorker a Hundred Years Hence," 1921


[A]t present my chief work is on the manuscripts of the library — a blessed lot, as nothing could be more interesting, as bringing me into close touch with the ancients, to whom I now belong. ~James L. Whitney, "Reminiscences of an Old Librarian," November 1909  #oldsoul


Berenice Abbott's 1939 book Changing New York is aptly titled, for she is not so much memorializing the past as simply documenting ten years of the chronic self-destruct quality of American experience, in which even the recent past is constantly being used up, swept away, torn down, thrown out, traded in. Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparents' pots and pans — the used things, warm with generations of human touch, that Rilke celebrated in The Duino Elegies as being essential to a human landscape. ~Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977  [a little altered —tg]


Old customs are easy to forget with the flashing of events in our lives. Easy to forget, like the heavy clothing we once wore to survive the winters. It is an old custom, the handing down of things. A good knife, a well-made pipe, a heavy robe. Tradition falls prey to constant change, and creativity becomes so revered that the past is a relic, only to be admired. But in this coat, I was held to the earth, pulled to the past by its weight. ~Craig Childs, The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild, 2007  [about his grandfather's coat —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


My generation is not strong. My grandfather fought in World War II.  I had a panic attack during the series finale of Breaking Bad. ~Matt Donaher


Some men so dislike the dust kicked up by the generation they belong to, that, being unable to pass, they lag behind it. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827


Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry. ~J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951  [Mr. Antolini —tg]


Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his youth was passed; a happy age which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence. ~Samuel Johnson, 1750


I had a vision once — you may all have had a like one — of the stream of time flowing through a limitless land. Along its banks sprang up in succession the generations of man. They did not move with the stream — they lived their lives and sank away; and always below them new generations appeared, to play their brief parts in what is called history... I saw that these successive dwellers on the stream were busy in constructing and setting afloat vessels of various size and form and rig... I saw the anxiety with which each builder launched his venture, and watched its performance and progress. The anxiety was to invent and launch something that should float on to the generations to come, and carry the name of the builder and the fame of his generation. ~Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900), "The Relation of Literature to Life"  [Context: He's referring to literature. The ships are books; the men, authors. But he acknowledges the "allegory admits of any amount of ingenious parallelism." —tg]


Parents often talk about the younger generation as if they didn't have anything to do with it. ~Funny Funny World, as quoted in The Reader's Digest, 1986


For each generation must find the wisdom of the ages in the form of its own wisdom. ~Erik H. Erikson, "Human Strength and the Cycle of Generations," Insight and Responsibility, 1964





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