It’s Easy Enough, My Friend, to Dream of Utopian Worlds Afar…

Edgar Allan Poe? Ted Olson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a verse stating that only one person out of one-hundred is actively working toward making bold dreams come true. This notion has been ascribed to the horror master Edgar Allan Poe. Are you familiar with this verse? Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The October 1, 1926 issue of “Forbes” magazine printed a five stanza poem by Ted Olson titled “Dreamer and Doer”. The first stanza described the ineffectual “dreamer” archetype. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It’s easy enough, my friend, to dream
Of Utopian worlds afar;
Where wealth and power and prowess gleam
Remote as the utmost star.

The final stanza described the “doer” archetype and included the statement under investigation:

And ninety-nine are with dreams content.
But the hope of a world made new
Is the hundredth man who is grimly bent
On making the dream come true!

Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849 long before the poem above first appeared, and QI has found no substantive evidence linking him to these words.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




On October 29, 1926 “The Detroit Free Press” of Detroit, Michigan reprinted the poem and acknowledged Ted Olson in “Forbes” Magazine. 2 On November 13, 1926 “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio also published the poem and acknowledged “Forbes” magazine without specifying an author. 3 In February 1927 the poem appeared in “The Seamen’s Journal” of San Francisco, California which acknowledged Ted Olson in “Forbes” Magazine. 4 All three of these periodicals made a slight alteration to the final verse. The phrase “a world made new” was changed to “the world made new”.

In September 1929 “The New York Times” shared an inquiry from a reader who presented the beginning of the poem and wished to know the author’s name. The text differed slightly from the original because the word “wealth” was changed to “strength”: 5

“Utopian Worlds Afar”

B. B. M.—Wanted, the name the author of a poem beginning:
It’s easy enough, my friend, to dream
Of Utopian worlds afar
Where strength and power and prowess gleam.
Remote as the utmost star.

In 1934 a columnist named Scoop in “The Bee” of Danville, Virginia printed a reformatted instance of the poem. All the lines were collapsed into a single paragraph, and the attribution was changed. Below are shown the new attribution together with the final part of the poem: 6

Dreaming an’ such, lamped by Joey Doolittle: . . .

And ninety-nine are with dreams content, but the hope of a world made new is the hundredth man who is grimly bent on making the dream come true.

In 1956 a version of the last stanza appeared in a classified advertisement purchased by the American Sleep Teaching Association in a newspaper in Cincinnati, Ohio: 7

90 & 9 are with dreams content,
But the hope of the world made new
Is that hundredth man who is grimly bent
On making the dream come true.

The poem was still circulating in recent decades. In 1994 an instance of the final stanza appeared in the signature block of a Usenet message sent by James D. Lee who was at the University of Arizona. The ascription was anonymous: 8

The ninety and nine are with dreams content
But the hope of the world made new,
Is the hundredth man who is grimly bent
On making those dreams come true.
anonymous

A tweet from Christine B. Taylor in 2009 credited “Poe”: 9

“99 are with dreams, content but the hope of the world made new, is the 100th man who is grimly bent on making those dreams come true.” Poe

A 2010 tweet from Kole Finley containing a fragment of the poem credited “Edgar Allan Poe”: 10

is the hundredth man who is grimly bent on making those dreams come true.” Edgar Allan Poe

In conclusion, the 1926 poem in “Forbes” magazine should be credited to Ted Olson. The linkage to Edgar Allan Poe was spurious.

Image Notes: Picture of light bulbs from ColiN00B at Pixabay. Picture of the Earth from NASA at nasa.gov. Images have been retouched, cropped, and resized.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person who saw this quotation employed by a colleague and sent an inquiry which caused QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Rand Hartsell and the library system of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign for precisely locating and accessing the “Forbes” magazine citation.)

Notes:

  1. 1926 October 1, Forbes, Volume 18, Number 12, Dreamer and Doer by Ted Olson, Quote Page 32, B. C. Forbes Publishing Company, New York. (Gale Cengage)
  2. 1926 October 29, The Detroit Free Press, Passing Verse: Dreamer and Doer (Acknowledgement Ted Olson in Forbes Magazine), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1926 November 13, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Dreamer and Doer (acknowledgment to Forbes Magazine; no author specified), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1927 February, The Seamen’s Journal, Volume 41, Number 2, Dreamer or Doer, (Acknowledgement Ted Olson in Forbes Magazine), Quote Page 60, Column 2, Official Paper of the International Seamen’s Union of America. San Francisco, California. (Internet Archive archive.org) link
  5. 1929 September 8, The New York Times, Section: Book Review, Queries and Answers: Queries, Quote Page BR20, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)
  6. 1934 June 21, The Bee, Scoop’s Colyum, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Danville, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1956 December 20, Arizona Republic, (Classified Advertisement in Personals Section), Quote Page 63, Column 8, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1994 August 9, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: comp.databases.paradox, From: @bpavms.bpa.arizona.edu James D. Lee, Organization: University of Arizona (BPA), Subject: Re: Paradox/Win 5.0 upgrade expensive? (Google Groups Search; Accessed January 27, 2017) link
  9. Tweet, From: Christine B. Taylor @mousewords, Time: 4:39 AM, Date: Nov 1, 2009, Text: “99 are with dreams, content but the hope of the world made new, is the 100th man who is grimly bent on making those dreams come true.” Poe (Accessed on twitter.com on January 27, 2017) link
  10. Tweet, From: Kole Finley @LadyKole, Time: 10:37 PM, Date: Jan 11, 2010, Text: is the hundredth man who is grimly bent on making those dreams come true.” Edgar Allan Poe (Accessed on twitter.com on January 27, 2017) link