Reflections Washington DC

Famous Quotations: Library of Congress

What better place to ponder famous writers’ words than the quotations on the walls at the Library of Congress (LOC)? The oldest of the three structures, the Jefferson Building, is located in Washington, DC. The Beaux Arts venue features sumptuous sculptures, paintings, and artwork.

But being a writer, I was most curious about the inscriptions and quotations engraved on the walls in the Great Hall.

Quotations make us stop and think.

Rene Descartes wrote “the reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” So why not commence a conversation with great men of letters?

On These Walls

These inscriptions and quotes were chosen by Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot and Librarian of Congress Rand Spofford. Some of their choices now seem archaic but then so does the alphabet. I had to train my brain to turn what looked like the letter V into the letter U.

The quotes can be found on the gilt wall tablets above the windows as well as stretching around the circumference of the room.

I think they will make you ponder. Please share your thoughts in the comments section at the end of this article.

Statue of Thomas Jefferson

Bookish Quotes

“The glory of every people arises from its authors.”

Samuel Johnson

“The history of the world is the biography of great men.”

Thomas Caryle
Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

“Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Books will speak plain when counselors blanch.”

Francis Bacon
The Gutenberg Bible

Biblical Quotes

“Wisdom is the principal thing therefore get wisdom with all they getting get wisdom.”

Proverbs 4:7 (King James version)

“Ignorance is the curse of God /Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”

William Shakespeare (Henry VI)
Ceiling (Great Hall)

Philosophical Quotes

“How charming is divine philosophy.”

John Milton

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

John Keats

“There is but one temple in the universe and that is the body of man.”

Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibit

Knowledge Quotes

“In books lies the soul of the whole past time.”

Thomas Carlyle

“Words are also actions and actions are a kind of words.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Main Reading Room, Thomas Jefferson Building

Reading Quotes

“Reading maketh the whole man / Conference a ready man / an writing an exact man.”

Francis Bacon

“The true university of these days is a collection of books.”

Thomas Caryle
Dome Ceiling, Thomas Jefferson Building

Science Quotes

“Science is organized knowledge.”

Immanuel Kant

“Books must follow sciences and not sciences book.”

Francis Bacon

U.S. Capitol path

Nature Quotes

“Nature is the art of God.”

Dante Alighieri

“Too low they build who build beneath the stars.”

Edward Young

Nature of Man Quotes

“There is no work of genius which has not been the delight of mankind.”

James Russell Lowell

“It is the mind that makes the man and our vigor is in our immortal soul.”


“They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.”

Sir Philip Sydney

Thomas Jefferson’s original copy of Plato’s Republic

Curious Quotes

“Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

William Shakespeare (As You Like It)

“The true shekinah is man.”


Poetry Quotes

“Only the actions of the just smell sweet and blossom in the dust.”

James Shirley

“Art is long and time is fleeting.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies.”

John Milton

“Man is one world and hath another to attend him.”

George Herbert

Mapping A Growing Nation exhibit

History Quotes

“Glory is acquired by virtue but preserved by letters.”

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”


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  • Ophelie
    February 19, 2022 at 5:43 am

    They really chose the quotes wisely! Reading them is a good way to reflect and take a step back from our daily life!

    • Terri
      February 19, 2022 at 5:51 pm

      I absolutely agree. I bet it took a long time for these two men to select the crucial quotes. I spent a whole afternoon at the Library of Congress writing them down.

  • Zoe
    February 19, 2022 at 7:10 am

    Great post and combining photos. Some great quotes here!

    • Terri
      February 19, 2022 at 5:50 pm

      I agree Zoe. I had to look up each quote to find out the writer’s name.

  • Krista
    February 19, 2022 at 7:23 am

    That’s so interesting that there are so many quotes dotted around the library. I’ll have to look for them next time I’m there.

    • Terri
      February 19, 2022 at 5:49 pm

      Absolutely! You should walk around the whole great hall to read them. It is fascinating.

  • Rachel - Rays of Adventure
    February 19, 2022 at 9:27 am

    Love this post, this is so interesting! I love looking at places in detail like this. Your photos are beautiful as well.

    • Terri
      February 19, 2022 at 5:49 pm

      Thank you! It is a spectacular building -the architecture, the statues, the art!

  • Jenn
    February 19, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Love the quotes, I used to collect my favorite quotes in a little book. It’s funny how a pithy saying can encapsulate so many good thoughts. Didn’t know the Library of Congress had so many – and I love the shot of Thomas Jefferson with the mask!

    • Terri
      February 19, 2022 at 5:48 pm

      I kept a journal with favorite writers’ quotes too!

  • Alanna
    February 19, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Great quotes that really embody our history and progress. How beautiful!

    • Terri
      February 19, 2022 at 5:47 pm

      Awww thank you! I love reading all these quotes from famous people.

  • Tabitha
    February 19, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    I love that this post is about the quotes around the LOC.

    • Terri
      February 19, 2022 at 5:47 pm

      I am so glad you like it. I don’t think there is any record of all the quotes on the LOC website so I couldn’t resist writing them all down to publish as a post.

  • Denise
    February 19, 2022 at 5:53 pm

    I love these! I have visited D.C many times and never took a look at all of these quotes.

  • Kathryn
    February 20, 2022 at 12:28 am

    What a great idea for a post! Some real gems you added here. Thanks for sharing!

    February 20, 2022 at 1:00 am

    Wow! Some interesting quotes here. Loved them.

  • Hannah
    February 20, 2022 at 2:18 am

    what a great collection of quotes! I especially love “The true university of these days is a collection of books.” As a bookworm – I totally agree! I love your photos! I have visited the Library of Congress but it was a fleeting visit! I’d love to return to admire it properly – it is such a beautiful place! Thanks for sharing these inspiring quotes!

    • Terri
      February 20, 2022 at 5:23 am

      Hannah I am so excited to learn you have visited this Library of Congress building. It is truly spectacular. And this is one of my favorite quotes too!

  • Ashleigh’s Atlas
    February 20, 2022 at 2:21 am

    Cool post, the photos look great and the quotes help to picture being there 💕

    • Terri
      February 20, 2022 at 5:22 am

      I agree. These quotes were engraved in the 19th century when the building opened. They are like a time capsule.

  • Emma
    February 20, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    I’m such a fan of beautiful libraries! Great quotes to go with it!

  • Ada
    February 21, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    I love a good quote and your photos are absolutely stunning. I deeply regret not making it to the Library of Congress on my visit to DC. I guess I will have to go back!

  • Cristina
    February 22, 2022 at 5:08 pm

    This library is stunning!! I love adding libraries to my travel itineraries, they are incredible places to get lost in books, architecture and quotes.

  • Natalie
    February 23, 2022 at 9:38 am

    Wow Terri, amazing post! I absolutely love quotes and beautiful libraries, so this is right up my alley! I didn’t get a chance to visit the Library of Congress when I was in DC since it was still closed due to Covid 🙁 I was so bummed because it was the top thing I wanted to visit in DC. Oh well, just a reason to go back someday 😉

  • Amy A.
    March 3, 2022 at 11:10 am

    I researched at the LOC for graduate credit and also went through docent training there… I always talked up the LOC but one feature I found most disconcerting was the ethnoglyphs. Essentially they featured stereotypic depictions of the different races during the time that the Jefferson building was built at the late 1800s early 1900s.