Quotes from The Secret Agent

Joseph Conrad ·  304 pages

Rating: (15.4K votes)


“We can never cease to be ourselves.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“Madness alone is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it by threats, persuasion, or bribes.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“I am afraid that if you want to go down into history you'll have to do something for it.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“The condemned social order has not been built up on paper and ink, and I don't fancy that a combination of paper and ink will ever put an end to it.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“Curiosity being one of the forms of self-revelation, a systematically incurious person remains always partly mysterious. ”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent



“All idealisation makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity — it is to destroy it.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“There are more kinds of fools than one can guard against.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“(law is) the pretty branding instrument invented by the overfed to protect themselves against the hungry ?”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“As a general rule, a reputation is built on manner as much as on achievement.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“Do you know how I would call the nature of the present economic conditions? I would call it cannibalistic. That's what it is! They are nourishing their greed on the quivering flesh and the warm blood of the people - nothing else.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent



“You revolutionists' the other continued, with leisurely self-confidence, 'are the slaves of the social convention, which is afraid of you; slaves of it as much as the very police that stands up in the defence of that convention. Clearly you are, since you want to revolutionize it. It governs your action, too, and thus neither your thought nor your action can ever be conclusive. (...) 'You are not a bit better than the forces arrayed against you -- than the police, for instance. The other day I came suddenly upon Chief Inspector Heat at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. He looked at me very steadily. But I did not look at him. Why should I give him more than a glance ? He was thinking of many things -- of his superiors, of his reputation, of the law courts, of his salary, of newspapers -- of a hundred things. But I was thinking of my perfect detonator only. He meant nothing to me. He was as insignificant as -- I can't call to mind anything insignificant enough to compare him with -- except Karl Yundt perhaps. Like to like. The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket. Revolutions, legality -- counter moves in the same game; forms of idleness at bottom identical. He plays his little game -- so do you propagandists.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“To break up the superstition and worship of legality should be our aim. Nothing would please me more than to see Inspector Heat and his likes take to shooting us down in broad daylight with the approval of the public. Half our battle would be won then; the desintegration of the old morality would have set in in its very temple. That is what you ought to aim at. But you revolutionists will never understand that. You plan the future, you lose yourselves in reveries of economical systems derived from what is; where as what's wanted is a clean sweep and a clear start for a new conception of life. That sort of future will take care of itself if you will only make room for it. Therefore I would shovel my stuff in heaps at the corners of the streets if I had enough for that; and as I haven't, I do my best by perfecting a really dependable detonator.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“The terrosirt and the policeman both come form the same basket. Revolution, legality - countermoves in the same game; forms of idleness at bottom identical.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“A certain simplicity of thought is common to serene souls at both ends of the social scale.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“No man engaged in a work he does not like can preserve many saving illusions
about himself. The distaste, the absence of glamour, extend from the occupation to the personality. It is only when our
appointed activities seem by a lucky accident to obey the particular earnestness of our temperament that we can taste the comfort of complete self-deception.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent



“[Perverse] unreason has its own logical processes”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“The cabman looked at the pieces of silver, which, appearing very minute in his big, grimy palm, symbolised the insignificant results which reward the ambitious courage and toil of a mankind whose day is short on this earth of evil.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“It is this country that is dangerous, with her idealistic conception of legality. The social spirit of this people is wrapped up in scrupulous prejudices and that is fatal to our work.. You talk of England being our only refuge! So much the worse. What do we want with refuges ? Here you talk, print, plot, and do nothing.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“There too he had been treated with revolting injustice. His struggles, his privations,his hard work to raise himself in the social scale, had
filled him with such an exalted conviction of his merits that it was extremely difficult for the world to treat him with justice— the standard of that notion depending so much upon the patience of the individual. The Professor had genius, but lacked the great social virtue of resignation.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“After a while he became disagreeably affected by the sight of the roadway thronged with vehicles and of the pavement crowded with men and women. He was in a long, straight street, peopled by a mere fraction of an immense multitude; but all round him, on and on, even to the limits of the horizon hidden by the enormous piles of bricks, he felt the mass of mankind mighty in its numbers. They swarmed numerous like locusts, industrious like ants, thoughtless like a natural force, pushing on blind and orderly and absorbed, impervious to sentiment, to logic, to terror, too, perhaps.
That was the form of doubt he feared most. Impervious to fear! Often while walking abroad, when he happened also to come out of himself, he had such moments of dreadful and sane mistrust of mankind. What if nothing could move them ? Such moments come to all men whose ambition aims at a direct grasp upon humanity -- to artists, politicians, thinkers, reformers, or saints. A despicable emotional state this, against which solitude fortifies a superior character.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent



“To the destruction of what is.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“And Mr Verloc, temparamentally identical with his associates, drew fine distinctions in his mind on the strenght of insignificant differences. He drew them with a certain complacency, because the instinct of conventional respectability was strong within him, being only overcome by defect which he shared with a large proportion of revolutionary reformers of a given social state. For obviously one does not revolt against the advantages and opportunities of that state, but against the price which must be paid for the same in the coin of accepted morality, self-restraint, and toil. The majority of revolutionists are the enemies of discipline and fatigue mostly. There are natures, too, to whose sense of justice the price exacted looms up monstrously enormous, odious, oppressive, worrying, humiliating, extortionate, intolerable. Those are the fanatics. The remaining portion of social rebels is accounted for by, vanity, the mother of all noble and vile illusions, the companion of poets, reformers, charlatans, prophets, and incendiaries.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“Nobody looked at him. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“The way of even the most justifiable revolution is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds. The Professor's indignation found in itself a final cause that absolued him from the sin of turning to destruction as the agent of his ambition. To destroy public faith in legality was the imperfect formula of his pedantic fanaticism; but the subconscious conviction that the framework of an established social order cannot be effectually shattered except by some form of collective or individual violence was precise and correct. He was a moral agent -- that was settled in his mind. By exercising his agency with ruthless defiance he procurred for himself the appearances of power and personal prestige, that was undeniable to his vengeful bitterness. It pacified its unrest; and in their own way the most ardent of revolutionaries are perhaps doing no more but seeking for peace in common with the rest of mankind -- the peace of soothed vanity, of satisfied appetites, or perhaps of appeased conscience.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“True wisdom, which is not certain of anything in this world of contradictions, would have prevented him from attaining his present position. It would have alarmed his superiors, and done away with his chances of promotion.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent



“Thieving was not a sheer absurdity. It was a form of human industry, perverse indeed, but still an industry exercised in an industrious world; it was work undertaken for the same reason as the work in potteries, in coal mines, in fields, in tool-grinding shops. It was labour, whose practical difference from the other forms of labour consisted in the nature of its risk, which did not lie in ankylosis, or lead poisoning, or fire-damp, or gritty dust, but in what may be briefly defined in its own special phraseology as "Seven years' hard". Chief Inspector Heat was, of course, not insensible to the gravity of moral differences. But neither were the thieves he had been looking after. They submitted to the severe sanction of a morality familiar to Chief Inspector Heat with a certain resignation. They were his fellow citizens gone wrong because of imperfect education, Chief Inspector Heat believed; but allowing for that difference, he could understand the mind of a burglar, because, as a matter of fact, the mind and the instincts of a burglar are of the same kind as the mind and the instincts of a police officer. Both recognize the same conventions, and have a working knowledge of each other's methods and of the routine of their respective trades. They understand each other, which is advantageous to both, and establishes a sort of amenity in their relations. Products of the same machine, one classed as useful and the other as noxious, they take the machine for granted in different ways, but with a seriousness essentially the same. The mind of Chief Inspector Heat was inaccessible to ideas of revolt. But his thieves were not rebels. His bodily vigour, his cool, inflexible manner, his courage, and his fairness, had secured for him much respect and some adulation in the sphere of his early successes. He had felt himself revered and admired. And Chief Inspector Heat, arrested within six paces of the anarchist nicknamed the Professor, gave a thought of regret to the world of thieves--sane, without morbid ideals, working by routine, respectful of constituted authorities, free from all taint of hate and despair.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“For history is made with tools, not with ideas; and everything is changed by economic conditions - art, philosophy, love, virtue - truth itself!”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“Ossip, I think you are a humbug...you are not even a doctor. But you are funny. Your notion of a humanity universally putting out the tongue and taking the pill from pole to pole at the bidding of a few solemn jokers is worthy of the prophet....”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“Preparation for the future was necessary, and he was willing to admit that the great change would perhaps come in the upheaval of a revolution. But he argued that revolutionary propaganda was a delicate work of high conscience. It was the education of the masters of the world. It should be as careful as the education given to kings.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent


“Fate looks at nothing. It has no discretion. He no longer considered it eminently desirable all round to establish publicly the identity of the man who had blown himself up that morning with such horrible completeness. But he was not certain of the view his department would take. A department is to those it employs a complex personality with ideas and even fads of its own. It depends on the loyal devotion of its servants, and the devoted loyalty of trusted servants is associated with a certain amount of affectionate contempt, which keeps it sweet, as it were. By a benevolent provision of Nature no man is a hero to his valet, or else the heroes would have to brush their own clothes. Likewise no department appears perfectly wise to the intimacy of its workers. A department does not know so much as some of its servants. Being a dispassionate organism, it can never be perfectly informed. It would not be good for its efficiency to know too much. Chief Inspector Heat got out of the train in a state of thoughtfulness entirely untainted with disloyalty, but not quite free of that jealous mistrust which so often springs on the ground of perfect devotion, whether to women or to institutions.”
― Joseph Conrad, quote from The Secret Agent



About the author

Joseph Conrad
Born place: in Berdichev (formerly Poland), Ukraine
Born date December 3, 1857
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