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Charles Caleb Colton (1780–1832) was an English cleric, writer and collector, well known for his eccentricities.

Colton was educated at Eton and King's College, graduating with a B.A. in 1801 and an M.A. in 1804. In 1801 he was presented by the college with the perpetual curacy of Tiverton's Prior's Quarter in Devon, where he lived for many years. He was appointed to the vicarage of Kew and Petersham in 1812. His performance of church-related functions at both locations was erratic: at times conscientious and brilliant while at other times cursory and indulgent. He left formal church service, and England, in 1828. Contemporaries believed that he had fled from his creditors, who took out a legal "docket" against him, identifying him as a wine-merchant.

For two years Colton traveled throughout the United States. He later established a modest residence in Paris. There he invested in an art gallery and had a large private collection of valuable paintings. Other pastimes included wine collecting and partridge-shooting. He also frequented the gaming salons of the "Palais Royal" and was so successful that in a year or two he acquired the equivalent of 25,000 English pounds. He continued gambling, however, and lost his French fortune. At the time of his death, Colton was living on funds received from his immediate family. An illness required surgery, but Colton dreaded the operation. He eventually killed himself rather than undergo the procedure.

Literary work

Colton's books, including collections of epigrammatic aphorisms and short essays on conduct, though now almost forgotten, had a phenomenal popularity in their day. Toward the end of 1820, Colton published Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words, addressed to those who think., in a small cheap edition. It attracted attention and praise, however, and five additional printings were issued in 1821. Lacon, Vol. II appeared in 1822. In 1822 Colton re-published a previous work on Napoleon, with extensive additions, under the title of The Conflagration of Moscow. In Paris he printed An Ode on the Death of Lord Byron for private circulation and continued to write. At his death he left an unpublished poem of 600 lines called Modern Antiquity.

In the twentieth century and to the present day Colton has been read most frequently perhaps in quotation books, including Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, where many of his aphorisms have been preserved.

One of Colton's most famous quotes.."Imitation is the sincerest (form) of flattery" [1][2] Colton's work is widely misunderstood and misinterpreted. He often railed against landowners publicly and privately, and most of his aphorisms are directed against this class. In particular, he was disgusted by what he perceived as a lack of learning among the merchant class. His sayings have been used extensively by Socialist commentators. Recently, some groups have begun quoting him for their unique purposes, perhaps not understanding the import and meaning of his words and work. Thus, Colton is often held up by scholars as an example of someone often quoted, yet rarely understood.


This article incorporates public domain text from : Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J. M. Dent & Sons; New York, E. P. Dutton.

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Charles Caleb Colton (1780 – 1832) was a British author, clergyman, and art collector.


  • It is almost as difficult to make a man unlearn his errors as his knowledge. Mal-information is more hopeless than non-information; for error is always more busy than ignorance. Ignorance is a blank sheet, on which we may write; but error is a scribbled one, on which we must first erase. Ignorance is contented to stand still with her back to the truth; but error is more presumptuous, and proceeds in the same direction. Ignorance has no light, but error follows a false one. The consequence is, that error, when she retraces her footsteps, has further to go, before she can arrive at the truth, than ignorance.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820) #1
  • Men will wrangle for religion, write for it, fight for it, die for it; anything but live for it.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820) # 25
  • None are so fond of secrets as those who do not mean to keep them; such persons covet secrets as a spendthrift covets money, for the purpose of circulation.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820) # 40
  • When you have nothing to say, say nothing; a weak defense strengthens your opponent, and silence is less injurious than a bad reply.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820), # 183
  • Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820), # 217
  • It is always safe to learn, even from our enemies, seldom safe to venture to instruct, even our friends.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820), # 286
  • Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820), # 322
  • Applause is the spur of noble minds, the end and aim of weak ones.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820), # 324
  • If you would be known, and not know, vegetate in a village; If you would know, and not be known, live in a city.
    • Lacon, vol. I (1820), # 334
  • The debt which cancels all others.
    • Lacon, vol. II (1822), # 66

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