Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education

Mark Twain? Grant Allen?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am still in school and that is probably why the following quote attributed to Mark Twain appeals to me so much:

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

Your blog posts about Twain quotations reveal that the information on the internet about what he said or did not say is sometimes unreliable. I hope this motto is genuine. Can you figure out who said it?

Quote Investigator: The earliest known attribution of a version of this quote to Twain occurred in 1907 [OMT]. However, QI believes that credit for this saying should go to the controversial novelist and essayist Grant Allen who published a variant in 1894. Indeed, Grant Allen was so enamored with the maxim that schooling interfered with education that he presented it in an essay and then restated it within at least three of his novels. The four works were published in: 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1899.

The TwainQuotes website of Barbara Schmidt has a page presenting Twain’s witticisms on education. At the bottom of the webpage is the following note [TQE]:

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

- This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.

The first instance of the quotation credited to Twain that QI could locate is dated 1907. WikiQuote contributor, Gordonofcartoon, posted this fine cite according to the webpage revision history. The text of the instance appears within an advertisement for Daisy Air Rifle [OMT]:

Mark Twain once said: “Don’t let your boy’s schooling interfere with his education.”

That’s just another way of saying that you can’t make a good man out of a boy simply by cramming his head full of Latin and Algebra.

Several years before this cite the novelist and science writer Grant Allen expressed the idea. He tried to popularize the maxim by presenting multiple variations over a period of years in several of his works. Grant authored essays in The Westminster Gazette that were collected and published in 1894 in a book titled “Post-Prandial Philosophy”. Here is an excerpt about education [PPP]:

One year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three at Oxford; and six months in the fields with a platyscopic lens would teach them strange things about the world around them that all the long terms at Harrow and Winchester have failed to discover to them. But that would involve some trouble to the teacher.

What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education!

The final sentence above is directed to parents and others with control over the education of children. Allen wanted his idea applied to girl’s education as well as boy’s as indicated in an 1895 novel. In the excerpt below a woman, Herminia, is describing why she left conventional schooling at Girton. The character Alan then summarizes the point [WWD]:

“So I wouldn’t stop at Girton, partly because I felt the life was one-sided, – our girls thought and talked of nothing else on earth except Herodotus, trigonometry, and the higher culture, – but partly also because I wouldn’t be dependent on any man, not even my own father. It left me freer to act and think as I would. So I threw Girton overboard, and came up to live in London.”

“I see,” Alan replied. “You wouldn’t let your schooling interfere with your education.”

This book caused a scandal and was a bestseller in the 1890s because the plot includes an autonomous woman who has a child out of wedlock. Hence, a large reading public was exposed to Alan’s succinct statement of the saying.

In 1896 Allen published a tale of action and adventure titled “Under Sealed Orders”. Once again he incorporated a version of the maxim into the text [USO]:

That was what Mr. Hayward meant by ‘not allowing his schooling to interfere with his education.’ The boy had learnt most and learned best in his holidays.

In 1899 Allen wrote “Rosalba: the Story of Her Development” using a pseudonym. A strong female character in the book expresses the adage [RSD]:

All this time I was learning, learning, learning. People have often expressed surprise to me since that, with “my early disadvantages,” I should yet be able to hold my own in society. To me, the wonder seems all the other way: how do our women come to know anything when they have never had points of contact with realities?

No schooling was allowed to interfere with my education.

Grant Allen died in 1899 and after his death a memoir by Edward Clodd was published portraying his life. In the text Clodd claims that the saying about schooling is one of Allen’s “original axioms” [GAC]:

One of his original axioms, full of suggestion, and with the ‘soupcon’ of paradox wherewith so much that he said was flavoured, was, ‘You must never let schooling interfere with education’ (see ‘Eye versus Ear,’ in ‘Post-Prandial Philosophy,’ p 129).

Later in the book Clodd reiterates the claim with another variant of the saying [GAC]:

Of course, you know how Grant Allen used to deplore the fact that young people, even those with the so-called highest advantages, are brought up to know next to nothing of the natural marvels that surround them; and he used to get laughed at for saying, ‘What a misfortune it is we should let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education!’

Allen’s tireless proselytizing did cause at least one reader to connect him to the adage. A magazine article written a short time after Allen’s death in 1901 credits him with the maxim [NIM]:

In that charming book, “Eyes and No Eyes,” Grant Allen said that one should “never let schooling interfere with education,” so off they go bird-nesting and botanising, getting on terms with Nature.

QI was unable to locate a book by Grant Allen titled “Eyes and No Eyes”; however, there is a didactic short story by that name that appears in a multi-volume collection of children’s stories by John Aikin and Anna Laetitia Barbauld. It is not clear if the magazine writer is confusing references.

The contemporary ubiquitous association of the quote with the name of Mark Twain seems to have largely obliterated the previous connection to Grant Allen in the popular press. However, academics with knowledge of Allen are aware of his sayings concerning schooling and education. Below are three recent citations that refer to Allen’s sayings on this topic.

The first cite discusses Herminia who is a character in Allen’s best known novel, The Woman Who Did [AWD]:

In her refusal to let her schooling interfere with her education, Herminia explains that she left Cambridge for London where she supported herself by teaching in a girl’s school and doing literary hack-work  for newspapers.

The second recent cite appears in an academic work assessing the career of Allen. Each chapter is written by a separate author, and the chapter written by Chris Nottingham contains an extensive quote from the 1894 essay by Allen [LCP]:

In another essay Allen maintained the attack on formal education: ‘one year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three at Oxford; and six months in the fields with a platyscopic lens would teach them strange things about the world about them then all the long terms at Harrow and Winchester.’ ‘What a misfortune,’ he lamented, ‘that we should … let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education.’

The third cite appears in an online biography of Grant Allen by Peter Morton that is titled “The Busiest Man in England”. Morton describes Allen’s views on education as follows [BME]:

Later on, Grant Allen was fond of warning parents not to let their children’s schooling get in the way of their education, but a warm study and a book-laden desk must have figured largely in his own childhood.

In conclusion, Grant Allen wrote “No schooling was allowed to interfere with my education” in a variety of permutations. QI believes he probably originated the saying, and he clearly attempted to popularize it. However, Allen was a controversial figure and the maxim was reassigned to Mark Twain by 1907. QI thanks you for your question and hopes he has helped in your education.

[OMT] 1907, The Outing Magazine Advertiser, Volume 50, Page 840 (GB numbering), W. B. Holland. (Google Books full view.) link

[TQE] TwainQuotes website, Directory of Mark Twain’s maxims, quotations, and various opinions: Education, Edited by Barbara Schmidt. (Accessed 2010 September 25) link

[PPP] 1894, Post-Prandial Philosophy by Grant Allen, XV: Eye versus Ear, Page 129, Chatto & Windus, London.  (Google Books full view) link

[WWD] 1895, The Woman Who Did by Grant Allen, Page 15, Roberts Bros., Boston.  (Google Books full view) link

[USO] 1896, Under Sealed Orders by Grant Allen, Page 28, New Amsterdam Book Co., New York. (Google Books full view.) link

[RSD] 1899, Rosalba: the Story of Her Development by Olive Pratt Rayner (pseudonym of Grant Allen), Page 101, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.  (Google Books full view) link

[GAC] 1900, Grant Allen: A Memoir by Edward Clodd, Page 53 and Page 108, Grant Richards, London. (Google Books full view.) link

[NIM] 1901 October, The New Illustrated magazine (English Illustrated magazine), “Outdoor School at Haworth” by Keighley Snowden, Page 491, Macmillan and Co., London. link

[AWD] 2000, Grant Allen: the Downward Path which Leads to Fiction by Barbara Arnett Melchiori, Bulzoni, Rome. (Google Books snippet view only. Not verified on paper; May be inaccurate) link

[LCP] 2005, Literature and Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siecle edited by William Greenslade and Terence Rodgers, Chapter 7: Grant Allen and the New Politics by Chris Nottingham, Page 98, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. (Google Books limited view.) link

[BME] The Busiest Man in England, Biography of Grant Allen, Website of Peter Morton. (Accessed 2010 September 25) link

4 thoughts on “Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education

  1. I believe Henry Rutgers said it before Grant Allen. Henry was born in 1745 died in 1830, so it would be safe to assume that Grant got the quote from Henry

  2. “Mark Twain” was self-educated in life growing up as a boy on the Mississippi River. Samuel Clemens used his experience and wisdom – his hindsight and insight – to draw a similar conclusion. He may well have read Grant Allen, or not. Mark Twain may have simply repeated a concept which he read and agreed with, or may have independently reached the very same conclusion. More than one person prior to Grant Allen has likely had the same idea.

    As far as I know, Mark Twain simply wrote what was on his mind, something else that he was known to do. History has many examples of two or more individuals who have independently had the same thoughts, ideas, actions, or inventions. Mark Twain was better known, published, and read.

    But your information on Grant Allen, was read with great interest and appreciation! And for that I give you the credit.

  3. Christopher Griffin: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The earliest citation that attributed the quotation to Mark Twain was in an advertisement for a Daisy Air Rifle in 1907. The statement did not appear in Twain’s Notebooks nor in his published writings. Twain died in 1910. The 1907 citation is weak evidence and based on current knowledge I think that Twain probably did not use the expression.

    Twain is one of the strongest quotation magnets and an enormous number of sayings are incorrectly attributed to him.

  4. Also all of Twain’s other quotes about education are very pro-education. This quote isn’t consistent with his view.

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