“A peculiarity of the most democratic people in the world is their hunger for heroes.” –Lew Wallace

By all accounts, General Wallace was a Renaissance man, a talented man capable of insight and innovation. He was also a man of letters, spending his later years reading and writing while still quenching his thirst for more. He pursued his curiosity through a wide variety of topics from violin-making to spirituality, and world history to painting. Through his words, we can understand the personality and beliefs of an American hero.

Here we have collected the best Lew Wallace quotes we can find.

Quotes from His Novels

“A man is never so on trial as in the moment of excessive good-fortune.”

“The knowledge we gain from much sympathy with others passing through trials is but vaguely understood; strangely enough, it enables us, among other things, to merge our identity into theirs often so completely that their sorrows and their delights become our own.”
– Ben-Hur

“The happiness of love is in action; its test is what one is willing to do for others.”
– Ben-Hur

“As a rule, there is no surer way to the dislike of men than to behave well where they have behaved badly.”
– Ben-Hur

Lew Wallace Quotes on Family

“Of the sickness and death I recall but two things distinctly — horrible draughts of saffron tea, hot almost to scalding, and the large, brown eyes of my mother swimming in tears.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 9, about Esther Wallace

“This is the proper place for me to add that the world has been as unable to resist her as I was. In all the states of the Union, in every village and city, there are good people who know and speak of her as Mother Wallace, the sweet-tongued apostle of temperance and reform.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 46, about Zerelda Sanders Wallace

“Almost the earliest of my recollections is the gray uniform of Cadet [David] Wallace. The small tail and shining bullet-buttons of the coat captured my childish fancy. None of the good man’s after honors exalted him in my eyes like that scant garment.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 5, about David Wallace

“My noblest dream of life has been one of fame, but my holiest of her whom Fate shall give me for a wife. She must have high qualities to command me. In my aspirations her spirit must follow mine in my war for the world’s bubbles, not as a squaw her savage husband, but by my side, a woman’s yet an equal spirit? She is waiting for me somewhere in the cool shadows of tonight, and I wait for her. She will love me and I shall make her famous by my pen and glorious by my sword.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pgs. 198-9, about Susan Wallace


“Since that time [his sixth year] I have seen many of the famous rivers of the earth, among them the Danube, the Rhine, and the Nile; never one of them so impressed me as did the Wabash in that stolen interview. It looked so wide, so deep so like the passing of a flood going down in its own majestic way to what would be a deluge when it was at last arrived. Yet it had a coaxing power. My fears were soothed, and I went and, as it were, laid my hand on its mane; and thence we were friends.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 10

Education & Learning

“To catch a boy and hold him fast one has only to set the delicate machinery of the wonder-box in him at work.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 26

“I resolved to give up the dream [of being an artist]. Still it haunts me. At this day even, I cannot look at a great picture without envying its creator the delight he must have had the while it was in evolution.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 52

“My rating at school was the worst; yet, strange to say, education went on with me, for I was acquiring a habit of reading. Looking back to the thrashings I took stoically and without a whimper, I console myself thinking of the successful lives there have been with not a jot of algebra in them.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 54

“To be able to laugh at himself is pretty good evidence that one has reached the philosophic stage of life; to invite others to join him in the laugh is a final test conclusive of the fact.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 35

Lew Wallace Quotes on Politics & War

“In the nature of things Freedom and Slavery cannot be coexistent. I could not bring myself to defend the institution of slavery, my sympathies would side with the fugitive against his master. In all nature there was nothing more natural than the yearning for freedom.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pgs. 238-9

“My greatest personal satisfaction was due to discovery of the fact that in the confusion and feverish excitement of real battle, I could think.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 437

“I find my interest in battles rather increased than otherwise — in fact, I like the excitement, and in very truth, I never heard music as fascinating and grand as that of battle.”
– Lew Wallace to his wife, Susan, Feb. 27, 1862, near Fort Henry

“God help us, there was never music with motive to action, and such inspiration in it, as that of battle!”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I

“Where I got the confidence that possessed me — sometimes there steals into the reflection a vague suspicion that the thing called courage, if a quality at all, is chiefly compounded of inexperience and ignorance.”
– Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Volume I, pg. 454

“As you know, every American is supposed to be equal to any office . . . but to me diplomacy was a new business and to be learned ab initio. I do not believe men are born to anything; mastery comes only by long study and practice. And I have acted on my belief in this matter and have tried to profit by the mistakes of others.”
– Lew Wallace to his brother, William, from Constantinople, January 10, 1882

Wallace’s Reflections about Life

“I am glad that I have had the opportunity to travel and learn a little of other lands, but if my life has taught me anything, it is that our own is the best, the freest, the happiest one beneath God’s sunshine – worth living for and worth dying for, too, whenever the need arises.”
– Lew Wallace to his sister-in-law, Joanna M. Lane

“We may as well regard the curtain rung down on this act of my life. I have tried many things in the course of the dream – the law, soldiering, politics, authorship and, lastly, diplomacy – and if I may pass judgment upon the success achieved in each, it seems now that when I sit down finally in the old man’s gown and slippers, helping the cat to keep the fireplace warm, I shall look back upon Ben-Hur as my best performance, and this mission near the sultan as the next best.”
– Lew Wallace to Susan Wallace, from Constantinople, March 3, 1885

“I know what I should love to do — to build a study; to write, and to think of nothing else. I want to bury myself in a den of books. I want to saturate myself with the elements of which they are made, and breathe their atmosphere until I am of it.”
– Lew Wallace to Susan Wallace, from Constantinople, March 3, 1885