James Branch Cabell

Literary Life and Legacy

The Quotable Cabell

Memorable phrases spoken by characters in Cabell’s works, and sometimes by the author himself. 

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“Mundus vult decipi” [The world wants to be deceived] Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances

 “The desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings is, as the saying runs, old as the hills — and as immortal.” The Certain Hour

“Time changes all things and cultivates even in herself an appreciation of irony, and, therefore, why shouldn’t I have changed a trifle?” The Certain Hour

“[L]ife is a fine ardent spectacle; and I have loved the actors in it: and I have loved their youth and high-heartedness, and their ungrounded faiths, and their queer dreams…about their own importance and about the greatness of the destiny that awaited them, while you were piddling after, of all things, the truth!”  The Silver Stallion

“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. So I elect for neither label. …” The Silver Stallion 

“Everything in life is miraculous. It rests within the power of each of us to awaken from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness.”  The Cream of the Jest

“To submit, without dreaming any more, is the great lesson” The High Place

“To submit is the great lesson. I too was once a dreamer: and in dreams there are lessons. But to submit, without dreaming any more, is the great lesson; to submit, without either understanding or repining, and without demanding of life too much of beauty or of holiness, and without shirking the fact that this universe is under no least bond ever to grant us, upon either side of the grave, our desires. To do that, my son, does not satisfy. … But to do that is wisdom.” The High Place

“To spin romances is, indeed, man’s proper and peculiar function in a world wherein he only of created beings can make no profitable use of the truth about himself. For man alone of animals plays the ape to his dreams. So he fares onward chivalrously, led by ignes fatui no doubt, yet moving onward. And that the goal remains ambiguous seems but a trivial circumstance to any living creature who knows, he knows not how, that to stay still can be esteemed a virtue only in the dead.”  Beyond Life 

“[T]he serious prose craftsman will write primarily to divert himself with a part thrifty but in the main a philanthropic underthought of handing on, at a fair price, the playthings and the games which he contrives, for the diversion of those with a like taste in anodynes. And to do this will content him. For he will believe that he may win to fame by brewing oblivion, he will hope to invent, if he be very lucky, some quite new form of ‘let’s pretend.'” A Note on Alcoves” in The Novel of Tomorrow and the Scope of Fiction

“People whose tastes happen to be literary are entirely too prone to too much long-faced prattle about literature, which, when all is said, is never a controlling factor in anybody’s life. The automobile and the telephone, the accomplishments of Mr. Thomas Edison and Mr. Luther Burbank, and it would be permissible to add, of Mr. Henry Ford, influence nowadays, in one fashion or another, every moment of every living American’s existence; whereas had America produced, instead, a second Milton or a Dante, it would at most have caused a few of us to spend a few spare evenings rather differently.” The Certain Hour

“[T]his universe is under no least bond ever to grant us, upon either side of the grave, our desires.” The High Place

“There is not any memory with less satisfaction than the memory of some temptation we resisted.” Jurgen

“The religion of Hell is patriotism, and the government is an enlightened democracy.” Jurgen   

“Poetry is man’s rebellion against being what he is” Jurgen 

“Good and evil keep very exact accounts… and the face of every man is their ledger.” Jurgen   

“Your lips conformed, but all the while your mind made verses, Jurgen. And poetry is man’s rebellion against being what he is.” Koshchei in Jurgen 

“Yet I prefer to take it that we are components of an unfinished world, and that we are but as seething atoms which ferment toward its making, if merely because man as he now exists can hardly be the finished product of any Creator whom one could very heartily revere. We are being made into something quite unpredictable, I imagine: and through the purging and the smelting, we are sustained by an instinctive knowledge that we are being made into something better.” Charteris in Beyond Life

“You will be chilled, though, traveling as you are. For you and I are going a queer way, in search of justice, over the grave of a dream and through the malice of time.” Jurgen

“The would-be nonconformist is compelled, by-and-by, to accept in this world his decreed heritage, whether as an heir or an assign; and he accepts likewise the requirements, the enforced requirements, of his heritage….Time teaches us, indeed, that almost all human living is an exercise of acceptance rather than of action; and a career … far less of doing things than of having things done to you.” Let Me Lie

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“Tell the rabble my name is Cabell.”   

A rhyme James Branch Cabell made to indicate the proper pronunciation of his name.
There is still some investigation underway as to how this rhyme became generally known.

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