James Thurber Quotes

James Grover Thurber, 1894 – 1961

Born: 8 December 1894, Columbus, Ohio
Died: 2 November 1961, New York City

Thurber’s father was a mild-mannered clerk who became the model of his “Walter Mitty” character, his mother a “born comedienne” mother who loved practical jokes and once hobbled into a revival tent and was miraculously “cured”. Thurber lost one eye when playing “William Tell” with his brother and his vision was never good, he was almost completely blind later in life. He attended Ohio State University and did well but wasn’t given a degree because his sight was not good enough to take the mandatory ROTC class. (They awarded the degree in 1995.) He worked as a code clerk for the Department of State in WW I, first at Washington City and then at Paris. He came home to Columbus and took a reporting job at the Columbus Dispatch from 1921 to 1924, then moved to Greenwich Village and wrote for the New York Evening Post. After twenty rejections, he got his first short story in The New Yorker, joining the staff as an editor in 1927 with the help of another contributor, E. B. White. It was White who found some of his early drawings in the office trash and submitted them; Thurber was an editor, writer, and cartoonist at The New Yorker most of his life. He died of complications from pneumonia following a stroke.

James Thurber quotes:

A burden in the bush is worth two on your hands.

James Thurber

“The Hunter and the Elephant”, The New Yorker (18 February 1939)
A drawing is always dragged down to the level of its caption.

James Thurber

The New Yorker (2 August 1930)
A word to the wise is not sufficient if it doesn’t make any sense.

James Thurber

“The Weaver and the Worm”, The New Yorker (date unknown)
All men kill the thing they hate, too, unless, of course, it kills them first.

James Thurber

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1939)
All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.

James Thurber

“The Shore and the Sea”, Further Fables for Our Time (1956)
Art — the one achievement of Man which has made the long trip up from all fours seem well advised.

James Thurber

quoted by Clifton Fadiman in I Believe (1939)
Boys are perhaps beyond the range of anybody’s sure understanding, at least when they are between the ages of eighteen months and ninety years.

James Thurber

“The Darlings at the Top of the Stairs”, Lanterns & Lances (1961)
But those rare souls whose spirit gets magically into the hearts of men, leave behind them something more real and warmly personal than bodily presence, an ineffable and eternal thing. It is everlasting life touching us as something more than a vague, rec

James Thurber
Discussion in America means dissent.

James Thurber

“The Duchess and the Bugs”, Lanterns & Lances (1961)
Don’t get it right, just get it written.

James Thurber

“The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”, The New Yorker (29 April 1939)
Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy, wealthy and dead.

James Thurber

“The Shrike and the Chipmunks”, The New Yorker (18 February 1939)
Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, “How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid “How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?”

James Thurber

Memo to The New Yorker (1959)
Having a manuscript under Ross’s scrutiny was like putting your car in the hands of a skilled mechanic, not an automotive engineer with a bachelor of science degree, but a guy who knows what makes a motor go, and sputter, and wheeze, and sometimes comes to a dead stop; a man with an ear for the faintest body squeak as well as the loudest engine rattle.

James Thurber

on New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross in The Years With Ross (1959)
He had a sound sense, a unique, almost intuitive perception of what was wrong with something, incomplete or out of balance, understated or over-emphasized.

James Thurber

on New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross in The Years With Ross (1959)
He knows all about art, but he doesn’t know what he likes.

James Thurber

Cartoon caption, The New Yorker (4 November 1939)

He reminded me of an army scout riding at the head of a troop of cavalry who suddenly raises his hand in a green and silent valley and says, “Indians,” although to the ordinary eye and ear there is no faintest sign or sound of anything alarming.

James Thurber

on New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross in The Years With Ross (1959)
He who hesitates is sometimes saved.

James Thurber

“The Glass in the Field”, The New Yorker (31 October 1939)
Her own mother lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house.

James Thurber

My Life and Hard Times (1933)
Human Dignity has gleamed only now and then and here and there, in lonely splendor, throughout the ages, a hope of the better men, never an achievement of the majority.

James Thurber
Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquillity.

James Thurber
I always begin at the left with the opening word of the sentence and read toward the right and I recommend this method.

James Thurber

Memo to The New Yorker (1959)
I do not have a psychiatrist and I do not want one, for the simple reason that if he listened to me long enough, he might become disturbed.

James Thurber

“Carpe Noctem, If You Can”, Credos and Curios (1962)
I hate women because they always know where things are.

James Thurber
I loathe the expression ‘What makes him tick’ … A person not only ticks, he also chimes and strikes the hour, falls and breaks and has to be put together again, and sometimes stops like an electric clock in a thunderstorm.

James Thurber
I love the idea of there being two sexes, don’t you?

James Thurber

Cartoon caption, The New Yorker (22 April 1939)
I think that maybe if women and children were in charge we would get somewhere.

James Thurber
I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness.

James Thurber
If a playwright tried to see eye to eye with everybody, he would get the worst case of strabismus since Hannibal lost an eye trying to count his nineteen elephants during a snowstorm while crossing the Alps.

James Thurber
If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.

James Thurber
If I have sometimes seemed to make fun of Woman, I assure you it has only been for the purpose of egging her on.

James Thurber

“The Duchess and the Bugs”, Lanterns & Lances (1961)

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