Charles Dickens Quotations

Charles Dickens / 1812–1870 / England (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) / Novelist


Quadruped lions are said to be savage, only when they are hungry; biped lions are rarely sulky longer than when their appetite for distinction remains unappeased.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 15 (1839).


Dollars! All their cares, hopes, joys, affections, virtues, and associations seemed to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, measures were gauged by their dollars; life was auctioneered, appraised, put up, and knocked down for its dollars. 

Martin Chuzzlewit, Chapter 16 (1844).


It is a pleasant thing to reflect upon, and furnishes a complete answer to those who contend for the gradual degeneration of the human species, that every baby born into the world is a finer one than the last.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 36 (1839).


“Did you ever taste beer?” “I had a sip of it once,” said the small servant. “Here’s a state of things!” cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. “She never tasted it—it can’t be tasted in a sip!”

The Old Curiosity Shop, Chapter 57 (1841).


The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. . . .

Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving—HOW NOT TO DO IT.

Little Dorrit, Book I, Chapter 10 (1857).


It is said that the children of the very poor are not brought up, but dragged up.

Bleak House, Chapter 6 (1853).


Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused—in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened—by the recurrence of Christmas.

Sketches by Boz, “Characters,” Chapter 2 (1836).\


Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!

Hard Times, Book I, Chapter 1 (1854).

I took a good deal o’ pains with his eddication, sir; let him run in the streets when he was wery young, and shift for his-self. It’s the only way to make a boy sharp, sir.

The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 20 (1836).


But death, fires, and burglary, make all men equals.

Oliver Twist, Chapter 28 (1838).

There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 46 (1839).


Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.

Great Expectations, Chapter 40 (1861).


Although a skilful flatterer is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to complimenting other people.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 28 (1839).


I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies!

Bleak House, Chapter 6 (1853).


He is a gentleman of strict conscience, disdainful of all littleness and meanness and ready on the shortest notice to die any death you may please to mention rather than give occasion for the least impeachment of his integrity. He is an honourable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man.

Bleak House, Chapter 2 (1853).


I never could have done what I have done, without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one object at a time.

David Copperfield, Chapter 42 (1850).


Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. 

David Copperfield, Chapter 12 (1850).


“No one is useless in this world,” retorted the Secretary, “who lightens the burden of it for any one else.”

Our Mutual Friend, Book III, Chapter 9 (1865).


When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerous thing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes no good to other people.

The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 31 (1836).


Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit, has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to total disagreement as to all the premises.

Bleak House, Chapter 1 (1853).

“It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it,” urged Mr. Bumble; first looking round, to ascertain that his partner had left the room.

That is no excuse,” returned Mr. Brownlow. “You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and, indeed, are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.”

If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”

Oliver Twist, Chapter 51 (1838).

Hard it is upon the part of the law that it should be so confoundedly down upon us unfortunate victims; when it takes such amazing good interest for itself from all its clients. But charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.

Martin Chuzzlewit, Chapter 27 (1844).


. . . trifles make the sum of life.

David Copperfield, Chapter 53 (1850).

A man must take the fat with the lean.

David Copperfield, Chapter 51 (1850).


It is strange with how little notice, good, bad, or indifferent, a man may live and die in London.

Sketches by Boz, “Characters,” Chapter 1 (1836).


Mystery and disappointment are not absolutely indispensable to the growth of love, but they are very often its powerful auxiliaries. 

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 40 (1839).


My experience teaches me, Lady Dedlock, that most of the people I know would do far better to leave marriage alone. It is at the bottom of three fourths of their troubles.

Bleak House, Chapter 41 (1853).

Mother Love

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues—faith and hope.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 43 (1839).

New Testament

I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.

Letter to Edward Dickens, September 26, 1868.


Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together.

Great Expectations, Chapter 27 (1861).

The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 3 (1839).


In love of home, the love of country has its rise.

The Old Curiosity Shop, Chapter 38 (1841).


“I am ruminating,” said Mr. Pickwick, “on the strange mutability of human affairs.” “Ah! I see—in at the palace door one day, out at the window the next. Philosopher, Sir?” “An observer of human nature, Sir,” said Mr. Pickwick. “Ah, so am I. Most people are when they’ve little to do and less to get.”

The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 2 (1836).

Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature.

Oliver Twist, Chapter 10 (1838).


“And if it’s proud to have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts,” Miss Jenny struck in, flushed, “she is proud.”

Our Mutual Friend, Book III, Chapter 2 (1865).


A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside; and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact, in one of the spice islands of the Indian Ocean.

Little Dorrit, Book I, Chapter 1 (1857).


Of all fruitless errands, sending a tear to look after a day that is gone is the most fruitless.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 10 (1839).


. . . always sure that what he thought or said or did was right, and holding it as a thing quite settled and ordained by the laws of nature and Providence, that anybody who said or did or thought otherwise must be inevitably and of necessity wrong.

Barnaby Rudge, Chapter 1 (1841).


It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

A Tale of Two Cities, Book III, Chapter 15 (1859).

Unrequited Love

If you could see my legs when I take my boots off, you’d form some idea of what unrequited affection is.

Dombey and Son, Chapter 48 (1848).

Virtues and Vices

. . . vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess.

Dombey and Son, Chapter 48 (1848).


Money and goods are certainly the best of references.

Our Mutual Friend, Book I, Chapter 4 (1865).


What is the odds so long as the fire of soul is kindled at the taper of conwiviality, and the wing of friendship never moults a feather! What is the odds so long as the spirit is expanded by means of rosy wine, and the present moment is the least happiest of our existence!

The Old Curiosity Shop, Chapter 2 (1841).

Wine in; truth out.

Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 27 (1839).