Quotes from Fifth Business

Robertson Davies ·  252 pages

Rating: (14.3K votes)


“If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“It was as though she was an exile from a world that saw things her way”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“I was afraid and did not know what I feared, which is the worst kind of fear.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and he fear and dread and splendor and freedom of wonder have been banished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn't incorporate it into a modern state, beacuse it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshiped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory and pitiless.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“Who are you? Where do you fit into poetry and myth? Do you know who I think you are, Ramsay? I think you are Fifth Business. You don't know what that is? Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna -- always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.
"So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out, the person who has no opposite of the other sex. And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot. The prima donna and the tenor, the contralto and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business! It is not spectacular, but it is a good line of work, I can tell you, and those who play it sometimes have a career that outlasts the golden voices. Are you Fifth Business? You had better find out.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business



“Schoolmastering kept me busy by day and part of each night. I was an assistant housemaster, with a fine big room under the eaves of the main building, and a wretched kennel of a bedroom, and rights in a bathroom used by two or three other resident masters. I taught all day, but my wooden leg mercifully spared me from the nuisance of having to supervise sports after school. There were exercises to mark every night, but I soon gained a professional attitude towards these woeful explorations of the caves of ignorance and did not let them depress me. I liked the company of most of my colleagues, who were about equally divided among good men who were good teachers, awful men who were awful teachers, and the grotesques and misfits who drift into teaching and are so often the most educative influences a boy meets in school. If a boy can't have a good teacher, give him a psychological cripple or an exotic failure to cope with; don't just give him a bad, dull teacher. This is where the private schools score over state-run schools; they can accommodate a few cultured madmen on the staff without having to offer explanations.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“God, youth is a terrible time! So much feeling and so little notion of how to handle it!”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“If a boy can't have a good teacher, give him a psychological cripple or an exotic failure to deal with; don't just give him a bad, dull teacher. This is where the private schools score over state-run schools; they can accommodate a few cultured madmen on the staff without having to offer explanations.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“My position was a common one; I wanted to do the right thing but could not help regretting the damnable expense.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“Life itself is too great a miracle for us to make so much fuss about potty little reversals of what we pompously assume to be the natural order.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business



“Why do people all over the world, and at all times, want marvels that defy all verifiable facts? And are the marvels brought into being by their desire or is their desire an assurance rising from some deep knowledge, not to be directly experienced and questioned, that the marvelous is indeed an aspect of the real?”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“My lifelong involvement with Mrs Dempster began at 5:58 o'clock p.m. on 27 December 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“But I was a lonely creature, and although I would have been very happy to have a friend I just never happened to meet one.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“He [Jesus] had a terrible temper, you know, undoubtedly inherited from His Father.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“Commanders and historians are the people who discuss wars; I was in the infantry, and most of the time I did not know where I was or what I was doing except that I was obeying orders and trying not to be killed in any of the variety of horrible ways open to me.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business



“I had schooled myself since the war-days never to speak of my enthusiasms; when other people did not share them, which was usual, I was hurt and my pleasure diminished; why was I always excited about things other people did not care about? But I could not hold in.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“Forgive yourself for being a human creature, Ramezay. That is the beginning of wisdom; that is part of what is meant by the fear of God; and for you it is the only way to save your sanity. Begin now, or you will end up with your saint in the madhouse.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“Padre Blazon was almost shouting by this time, and I had to hush him. People in the restaurant were staring, and one or two of the ladies of devout appearance were heaving their bosoms indignantly. He swept the room with the wild eyes of a conspirator in a melodrama and dropped his voice to a hiss. Fragments of food, ejected from his mouth by this jet, flew about the table. [p.201]”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“I thought I was in love with Leola, by which I meant that if I could have found her in a quiet corner, and if I had been certain that no one would ever find out, and if I could have summoned up the courage at the right moment, I would have kissed her. But, looking back on it now, I know that I was in love with Mrs Dempster. Not as some boys are in love with grown-up women, adoring them from afar and enjoying a fantasy life in which the older woman figures in an idealized form, but in a painful and immediate fashion; I saw her every day, I did menial tasks in her house, and I was charged to watch her and keep her from doing foolish things. Furthermore, I felt myself tied to her by the certainty that I was responsible for her straying wits, the disorder of her marriage, and the frail body of the child who was her great delight in life. I had made her what she was, and in such circumstances I must hate her or love her. In a mode that was far too demanding for my age or experience, I loved her.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“...the irrational will have its say, perhaps because 'irrational' is the wrong word for it.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business



“There was a moment, however, when the King and I were looking directly into each other's eyes, and in that instant I had a revelation that takes much longer to explain than to experience. Here am I, I reflected, being decorated as a hero, and in the eyes of everybody here I am indeed a hero; but I know that my heroic act was rather a dirty job I did when I was dreadfully frightened; I could just as easily have muddled it and been ingloriously killed. But it doesn't much matter, because people seem to need heroes; so long as I don't lose sight of the truth, it might as well be me as anyone else. And here before me stands a marvellously groomed little man who is pinning a hero's medal on me because some of his forebears were Alfred the Great, and Charles the First, and even King Arthur, for anything I know to the contrary. But I shouldn't be surprised if inside he feels as puzzled about the fate that brings him here as I.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“There is really no such thing as a secret; everybody likes to tell, and everybody does tell.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“Having me in the dining-room was almost the equivalent of having a Raeburn on the walls; I was classy, I was heavily varnished, and I offended nobody.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“He liked to make his hearers jump, now and then, and he said that our gravel pit was much the same sort of place as Gehenna. My elders thought this far-fetched, but I saw no reason why hell should not have, so to speak, visible branch establishments throughout the earth, and I have visited quite a few of them since.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“They were anxious to make men of us, by which they meant making us like themselves.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business



“Faustina is a great work of the Creator. She has nothing of what you call brains; she doesn't need them for her destiny... It is to be glorious for a few years: not to outlive some dull husband and live on his money till she is eighty, going to lectures and comparing the attractions of winter tours that offer the romance of the Caribbean.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


“I'm trying to be kind, you know, for I admired your parents. Fine people, and your father was a fair-minded man to every faith. But there are spiritual dangers you Protestants don't even seem to know exist, and this monkeying with difficult, sacred things is a sure way to get yourself into a real old mess. Well I recall, when I was a seminarian, how we were warned one day about a creature called a fool-saint.

Ever hear of a fool-saint? I thought not. As a matter of fact, it's a Jewish idea, and the Jews are no fools, y'know. A fool-saint is somebody who seems to be full of holiness and loves everybody and does every good act he can, but because he's a fool it all comes to nothing—to worse than nothing, because it is virtue tainted with madness, and you can't tell where it'll end up. Did you know that Prudence was named as one of the Virtues? There's the trouble with your fool-saint, y'see—no Prudence. Nothing but a lotta bad luck'll rub off on you from one of them. Did you know bad luck could be catching? There's a theological name for it, but I misremember it right now.”
― Robertson Davies, quote from Fifth Business


About the author

Robertson Davies
Born place: in Thamesville, Ontario, Canada
Born date August 28, 1913
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