Category Archives: Charles Lamb

Do Not Wait To Strike Till the Iron Is Hot; But Make It Hot By Striking

William Butler Yeats? William B. Sprague? Benjamin Franklin? Richard Sharp? Charles Lamb? Charles Caleb Colton? Oliver Cromwell? Peleg Sprague? Ernest Hemingway? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular proverb highlights the limited duration of an opportunity:

Strike while the iron is hot.

This metaphor has been astutely extended with advice for greater challenges:

Make the iron hot by striking.

This full metaphor has been credited to the English military leader Oliver Cromwell, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and the American novelist Ernest Hemingway. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The basic proverb appeared in one of “The Canterbury Tales” called “The Tale of Melibeus” by Geoffrey Chaucer written in the latter half of the 1300s. Here is the original spelling together with a modern rendition. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

…whil that iren is hoot men scholden smyte…
…while the iron is hot men should smite…

The earliest full match known to QI appeared in a 1782 letter from the famous statesman Benjamin Franklin to Reverend Richard Price about using the press to spread ideas. The letter was included in “Memoirs of the Life of The Rev. Richard Price” published in 1815: 2

The facility with which the same truths may be repeatedly enforced by placing them daily in different lights in newspapers which are every where read, gives a great chance of establishing them. And we now find, that it is not only right to strike while the iron is hot, but that it may be very practicable to heat it by continually striking.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1860, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Edited by Thomas Wright, The Tale of Melibeus, Start Page 150, Quote Page 152, Richard Griffin and Company, London and Glasgow. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1815, Memoirs of the Life of The Rev. Richard Price by William Morgan, Volume 5, (Letter within footnote), Letter from: Benjamin Franklin, Letter to: Richard Price, Letter date: June 13, 1782, Start Page 95, Quote Page 96, Printed for R. Hunter, Successor to J. Johnson, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Positively, The Best Thing a Person Can Have To Do Is Nothing

Charles Lamb? Théophile Gautier? Anonymous?

relax07Dear Quote Investigator: When I was choosing a major in college, people would ask me what I wished to do in life. I am somewhat indolent; hence, the following response reflects my underlying beliefs:

The best thing to have to do is nothing.

I usually did not share this thought with others. Interestingly, a similar sentiment has been expressed by both the English essayist Charles Lamb and the French writer Théophile Gautier. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1827 Charles Lamb wrote a letter to the poet Bernard Barton. He offered to help his friend, and the missive included an instance of the saying: 1

I would willingly come and work for you three weeks or so, to let you loose. Would I could sell or give you some of my leisure! POSTIVELY, THE BEST THING A MAN CAN HAVE TO DO IS NOTHING! and, next to that, perhaps, GOOD WORKS!

Here are additional selected citations in largely chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1837, The Letters of Charles Lamb with a Sketch of His Life by Thomas Noon Talfourd, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter XVI: 1826 to 1828, Letter from Charles Lamb to Bernard Barton, Start Page 211, Quote Page 213, Published by Edward Moxon, Dover Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link