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12/24/2014 08:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 Authors On The Spirit Of Giving

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Readers raised on C.S. Lewis's comforting Narnia series know the author had a penchant for writing frankly -- if sometimes a little dogmatically -- on the virtues of selflessness. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund's desire for enchanted and tasty Turkish delight, given to him by the cunning White Witch, leads him and his siblings into a world of trouble. So, in Lewis's world, not all giving is created equal, and the giving of material things is often portrayed as a sly play rather than a genuinely generous act.

In Mere Christianity, the writer advises his readers to engage less in acts of "showy" generosity (tipping at a restaurant, for example) and more in helping those in need -- the sorts of acts that sometimes go unrecognized. Perhaps the best-known writer who evangelized about this type of giving was Louisa May Alcott, whose Little Women opens on Christmas with a spurned and present-less Jo, and a frustrated Meg who sighs, "It’s so dreadful to be poor!" Still, the sisters decide to spend the little they do have on gifts for their mother, making Alcott's philosophy apparent.

Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy and a slew of other classic writers imbued their stories with their opinions on the value of helping others. Below, 10 of their warmest quotes about generosity:

“That's what I consider true generosity: You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” -- Simone de Beauvoir

"If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” -- C.S. Lewis

“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.” -- Robert Louis Stevenson

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"We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results." -- Henry Melvill

“Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, when I give I give myself.” -- Walt Whitman

"All generous spirits are ambitious, I suppose, but the ambition that calmly trusts itself to such a road, instead of spasmodically trying to fly over it, is of the kind I care for." -- Charles Dickens

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“Pride only helps us to be generous; it never makes us so, any more than vanity makes us witty.” -- George Eliot

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“[I]f we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.” -- J.M. Coetzee

“Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article attributed a quote to Herman Melville rather than Henry Melvill.

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