Category Archives: Eleanor Roosevelt

Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness

Eleanor Roosevelt? Confucius? Chinese Proverb? William L. Watkinson? E. Pomeroy Cutler? James Keller? Oliver Wendell Holmes? Adlai Stevenson? John F. Kennedy?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love the emphasis on constructive action in the following saying:

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

These words have been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, and several other people. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest appearance located by QI occurred in a 1907 collection titled “The Supreme Conquest and Other Sermons Preached in America” by William L. Watkinson. A sermon titled “The Invincible Strategy” downplayed the value of verbal attacks on undesirable behaviors and championed the importance of performing good works. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.

In September 1907 Watkinson’s sermon “The Invincible Strategy” was reprinted in a periodical called “China’s Millions” which was published by a Protestant Christian missionary society based in China. 2

Thus, the expression was disseminated to a group of people in China. Nowadays, the words are sometimes ascribed to Confucius or labeled a Chinese proverb, but QI has not found compelling evidence to support that assignment.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1907 Copyright, The Supreme Conquest and Other Sermons Preached in America by W. L. Watkinson (William Lonsdale Watkinson), Sermon XIV: The Invincible Strategy, (Romans: xii, 21), Start Page 206, Quote Page 217 and 218, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1907 September, China’s Millions, The Invincible Strategy by Rev. Wm. L. Watkinson, (Sermon printed by special permission of the Methodist Publishing House from the book “The Supreme Conquest” by W. L. Watkinson), Start Page 135, Quote Page 137, Column 2, Morgan and Scott, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Mark Twain? Eleanor Roosevelt? Mary Schmich? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

twaindo09Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain said something about doing at least one thing each day that you should do despite the fact that it makes you feel uncomfortable. I do not remember precisely how the expression was phrased. Here are two pertinent statements:

Do something every day that you don’t want to do.
Do one thing every day that scares you.

Would you please determine what Twain said?

Quote Investigator: In 1897 Mark Twain released a travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and the fifty-eighth chapter presented the following epigraph. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. So, Twain was the actual creator of the advice given above.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1897, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), (Chapter 58 Epigraph), Quote Page 549, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut; Also Doubleday & McClure Company, New York. (Internet Archive) link

Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People

Eleanor Roosevelt? Charles Stewart? Henry Thomas Buckle? James H. Halsey? Hyman G. Rickover? Anonymous?

topics08Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage is largely used to deride people who are preoccupied with gossip:

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

The words are attributed to social activist and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, but I have been unable to find a solid supporting citation. Similar statements have been ascribed to philosopher Socrates and U.S. Naval engineer Hyman Rickover. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a 1901 autobiography by Charles Stewart. As a child in London, Stewart listened to the conversation of dinner guests such as history scholar Henry Thomas Buckle who would sometimes discourse engagingly for twenty minutes on a topic. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

His thoughts and conversation were always on a high level, and I recollect a saying of his, which not only greatly impressed me at the time, but which I have ever since cherished as a test of the mental calibre of friends and acquaintances. Buckle said, in his dogmatic way: “Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”

Stewart was pleased with Buckle’s adage, but he did not let its implicit guidance dictate his conversations. He wished to avoid the tedium of monotonous dialogues:

The fact, of course, is that any of one’s friends who was incapable of a little intermingling of these condiments would soon be consigned to the home for dull dogs.

Buckle’s tripartite remark specified the categories: persons, things, and ideas. The questioner’s statement used the division: people, events, and ideas. So the statements did differ; indeed, the remark evolved during decades of circulation, and it was reassigned to a variety of individuals.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1901, Haud Immemor: Reminiscences of Legal and Social Life in Edinburgh and London 1850-1900 by Charles Stewart, Quote Page 33, William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London. (Google Books Full View) link

Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

Eleanor Roosevelt? Mary Schmich? Kurt Vonnegut? Baz Luhrmann? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Jane Addams? Mark Toby?

janeaddams03Dear Quote Investigator: To achieve personal growth it is sometimes necessary to move outside of a comfort zone. Unjustified fears can constrain exploration and positive development. Here is a saying I find valuable:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

The above advice is typically attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt who was First Lady for many years and a noted social activist. But I have been unable to find any justification for this ascription. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: An exact match for this quotation appeared within a June 1997 essay by Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. She began her article with the statement: “Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out”, and she continued by presenting a staccato sequence of items of advice aimed at young students. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Mary Schmich’s essay went viral and became a smash hit by August 1997, but the words were not credited to her. Instead, the work was retitled “Wear Sunscreen” and was incorrectly described as a graduation speech given by the well-known author Kurt Vonnegut at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 2

In 1999 the essay was transformed into a popular spoken-word song titled “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by the prominent film director Baz Luhrmann who credited Schmich. The quotation was included in the lyrics. 3 4

The famous transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson employed a precursor to the saying in the nineteenth century. The conception of incrementally conquering fears as a pathway to growth evolved over many decades. The following five instances of expressions are examined in greater depth further below:

Always do what you are afraid to do. (1841) —Popularized by Ralph Waldo Emerson

To do what you are afraid to do is to guide your life by fear. How much better not to be afraid to do what you believe in doing! (circa 1881) —Jane Addams

You must do the thing you think you cannot do. (1960) —Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m supposed to do one thing every day that I want to do but I’m afraid to do. (1961) —Mark Toby

Do one thing every day that scares you. (1997) —Mary Schmich

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1997 June 1, Chicago Tribune, “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young” by Mary Schmich, Page 4C, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  2. 1997 August 13, Washington Post, Section: Editorial, “The Speech That Wasn’t”, Quote Page A20:1, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. YouTube video, Title: Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen, Uploaded on May 24, 2007, Uploaded by: steffyweffy777, (Quotation starts at 1 minute 20 seconds of 5 minutes 4 seconds), Lyrics based on essay by Mary Schmich, (Accessed youtube.com on August 8, 2013) link
  4. 1999 March 31, Chicago Tribune, “From column to song: ‘Sunscreen’ spreads to Chicago” by Mark Caro [Tribune staff writer], Online Archive of Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois. (Accessed chicagotribune.com on August 8, 2013) link

People are Like Tea Bags. You Never Know How Strong They Are Until You Put Them in Hot Water

Hillary Clinton? Eleanor Roosevelt? Rita Mae Brown? Phyllis Schlafly? Lowell Bruce Laingen? Armand J. Gariepy? Anonymous?

roosevelt06Dear Quote Investigator: I read in the New York Times that one of the favorite adages of Hillary Clinton, former Senator and Secretary of State, is the following statement attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they get into hot water.

When did Roosevelt use this expression? Was she the person who coined it?

Quote Investigator: Precursors to this expression were in circulation in the 19th century. Instead of tea bags the sayings were based on similes with eggs and potatoes in hot water. For example, in 1858 the Irish Miscellany newspaper of Boston, Massachusetts printed the following: 1

Relieve misfortune quickly. A man is like an egg, the longer he is kept in hot water the harder he is when taken out.

Also, in 1870 The Shamrock newspaper of Dublin, Ireland printed this adage: 2

Men are like potatoes—they do not know how soon they may be in hot water.

Both these expressions have meanings that are distinct from the adage being explored, but they do share similarities and may have facilitated the emergence of variants. QI thanks researcher Barry Popik for notifying him about these precursors.

The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI was published in 1915 in a Seattle, Washington newspaper. This version referred simply to tea instead of tea bags and was applied to men: 3 4

“Men are like tea.”
“How so?”
“Their real strength is not drawn out until they get into hot water.”—Times-Picayune.

The maxim obtained further distribution in 1916 when it was printed in the book “Wit and Humor for Public Speakers”: 5

The Boston Transcript says men are like tea—their real strength isn’t drawn out until they get into hot water.

In 1958 a version using the term “tea bags” was spoken during a training speech for sales people. The phrasing was closer to modern instances, but the maxim applied to men and women: 6

“People are like tea bags,” a specialist on salesmanship declared here Thursday: “They never know their own strength until they get into hot water.”
Too many salesmen never get into hot water, said Armand J. Gariepy, director of Sales Training International, Barre, Mass. They simply sell by accident, he declared.

Top researcher Ralph Keyes discussed this saying in “The Quote Verifier”, and he was unable to find support for the linkage to Eleanor Roosevelt. Keyes stated that the archivists at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York have searched for the expression in the writings of Roosevelt and have not found it. 7

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1858 February 20, Irish Miscellany, Volume 1, Number 2, The Odd Corner, Quote Page 26, Column 1, Boston. Massachusetts. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1870 December 31, The Shamrock, Volume 8, Diamond Dust, Quote Page 207, Column 2, Irish National Newspaper and Publishing Company, Limited, Dublin, Ireland. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1915 January 15, Seattle Daily Times, Where They Resemble, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 13, Column 7, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1915 November 1, The Sabbath Recorder, Volume 79, Number 18, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 550, Column 2, A Seventh Day Baptist Weekly Published by The American Sabbath Tract Society, Plainfield, New Jersey. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1916, Wit and Humor for Public Speakers by Will H. Brown (William Herbert Brown), Section: Pithy Points, Quote Page 324, Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books full view) link
  6. 1958 December 4, Milwaukee Journal, Section: Part 2, Leap Before You Look–Sales Advice, Quote Page 23, Column 5, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)
  7. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 97, 98 and 298, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Marilyn Monroe? Eleanor Roosevelt? Anne Boleyn? Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Observing a stream of tweets is a confusing way to learn about a quotation:

Well behaved women rarely make history – Marilyn Monroe
Well-behaved women rarely make history – Eleanor Roosevelt
Well behaved women rarely make history – Anne Boleyn
Well behaved women rarely make history – Unknown
Well behaved women never make history – Marilyn Monroe
Well-behaved women never make history – My senior Quote

Some of these quotes use the word “rarely” and others use the word “never”. Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and I doubt she wanted to enter the history books via an execution. Could you examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a version of this phrase known to QI appeared in an academic paper in the journal “American Quarterly” in 1976 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. The statement used the word “seldom” instead of “rarely” or “never”: 1

Well-behaved women seldom make history; …

In 1976 Ulrich was a student at the University of New Hampshire, and she earned her Ph.D. in History there in 1980. She is now an eminent Pulitzer-Prize-winning Professor of early American history at Harvard University. The article containing the phrase was titled “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735”. The goal of the paper and much of Ulrich’s work was the recovery of the history of women who were not featured in history books of the past. She was interested in limning the lives of ordinary women who were considered “well-behaved” or “vertuous” (an alternate spelling of virtuous).

The 1990 book “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812” by Ulrich reprinted and extensively commented on the diary entries of an ordinary midwife in Maine who also acted as a healer. The book illuminated the medical practices and sexual attitudes of the era and was awarded a Pulitzer-Prize and Bancroft Prize.

Here are additional selected citations.

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Notes:

  1. 1976 Spring, American Quarterly, Volume 28, Number 1, “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Start Page 20, Quote Page 20, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, (JSTOR) link

No One Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Consent

Eleanor Roosevelt? Reader’s Digest? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a remarkably insightful statement about self-esteem that is usually credited to Eleanor Roosevelt, the diplomat and former First Lady:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

This is one of my favorite quotations, but I have not been able to determine when it was first said. One quotation dictionary claimed that the saying was in the autobiography “This is My Story” by Roosevelt, but I was unable to find it.

Did Eleanor Roosevelt really say this? Could you tell me where I can locate this quotation?

Quote Investigator: This popular aphorism is the most well-known guidance ascribed to Roosevelt. Quotation experts such as Rosalie Maggio and Ralph Keyes have explored the origin of this saying. Surprisingly, a thorough examination of the books the First Lady authored and her other archived writings has failed to discover any instances of the quote [QVFI].

Yet, the saying has been attributed to Roosevelt for more than seventy years. The earliest example located by QI appeared in the pages of the widely-distributed periodical Reader’s Digest in September of 1940 [RDFI]:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Thus, from the beginning the phrase was credited to Roosevelt. However, no supporting reference was given in the magazine, and the quote stood alone at the bottom of a page with unrelated article text above it.

Recently, QI located some intriguing evidence, and he now believes that the creation of this maxim can be traced back to comments made by Eleanor Roosevelt about an awkward event in 1935. The Secretary of Labor in the Roosevelt administration was invited to give a speech at the University of California, Berkeley on the Charter Day of the school. The customary host of the event was unhappy because she felt that the chosen speaker should not have been a political figure. She refused to serve as the host and several newspaper commentators viewed her action as a rebuff and an insult.

Eleanor Roosevelt was asked at a White House press conference whether the Secretary had been snubbed, and her response was widely disseminated in newspapers. Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press article [ERNC]:

“A snub” defined the first lady, “is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.”

She made clear she didn’t think the labor secretary fell within the category of the “snubable.”

Note that this statement by Roosevelt in 1935 contained the key elements of the quotation that was assigned to her by 1940. One person may try to make a second person feel inferior, but this second person can resist and simply refuse to feel inferior. In this example, the labor secretary refused to consent to feel inferior.

The precise wording given for Roosevelt’s statement varied. Here is another example that was printed in a syndicated newspaper column called “So They Say!” the following week. The columnist stated that the following was the definition of a “snub” given by Roosevelt [OWFI]:

I think it is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. First, though, you have to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

No One Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Consent

Eleanor Roosevelt? Reader’s Digest? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a remarkably insightful statement about self-esteem that is usually credited to Eleanor Roosevelt, the diplomat and former First Lady:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

This is one of my favorite quotations, but I have not been able to determine when it was first said. One quotation dictionary claimed that the saying was in the autobiography “This is My Story” by Roosevelt, but I was unable to find it.

Did Eleanor Roosevelt really say this? Could you tell me where I can locate this quotation?

Quote Investigator: This popular aphorism is the most well-known guidance ascribed to Roosevelt. Quotation experts such as Rosalie Maggio and Ralph Keyes have explored the origin of this saying. Surprisingly, a thorough examination of the books the First Lady authored and her other archived writings has failed to discover any instances of the quote [QVFI].

Yet, the saying has been attributed to Roosevelt for more than seventy years. The earliest example located by QI appeared in the pages of the widely-distributed periodical Reader’s Digest in September of 1940 [RDFI]:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Thus, from the beginning the phrase was credited to Roosevelt. However, no supporting reference was given in the magazine, and the quote stood alone at the bottom of a page with unrelated article text above it.

Recently, QI located some intriguing evidence, and he now believes that the creation of this maxim can be traced back to comments made by Eleanor Roosevelt about an awkward event in 1935. The Secretary of Labor in the Roosevelt administration was invited to give a speech at the University of California, Berkeley on the Charter Day of the school. The customary host of the event was unhappy because she felt that the chosen speaker should not have been a political figure. She refused to serve as the host and several newspaper commentators viewed her action as a rebuff and an insult.

Eleanor Roosevelt was asked at a White House press conference whether the Secretary had been snubbed, and her response was widely disseminated in newspapers. Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press article [ERNC]:

“A snub” defined the first lady, “is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.”

She made clear she didn’t think the labor secretary fell within the category of the “snubable.”

Note that this statement by Roosevelt in 1935 contained the key elements of the quotation that was assigned to her by 1940. One person may try to make a second person feel inferior, but this second person can resist and simply refuse to feel inferior. In this example, the labor secretary refused to consent to feel inferior.

The precise wording given for Roosevelt’s statement varied. Here is another example that was printed in a syndicated newspaper column called “So They Say!” the following week. The columnist stated that the following was the definition of a “snub” given by Roosevelt [OWFI]:

I think it is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. First, though, you have to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Sometime between 1935 and 1940 Eleanor Roosevelt’s commentary was reformulated into the elegant aphorism that was published in the Reader’s Digest. Roosevelt may have done this herself. Alternatively, someone else decided to render her remarks compactly and stylishly [RDFI]:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt

The next month, in October of 1940 the saying appeared as the first line of an editorial in a newspaper from Iowa. The words were placed between quotation marks, but no attribution was given [LPFI]:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”

That is a good thing to remember. If you feel uncertain of yourself, it is a good pointer to remember. If you feel uncertain of yourself, it is easy to make you feel inferior by making a slighting remark. But if you feel confident you can laugh it off.

At the end of October the maxim appeared freestanding in an Alaskan newspaper where it was credited to Roosevelt [FDFI]:

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

In June of 1941 the aphorism appeared on a newspaper page dedicated to the topics of “Home, Church, Religion, Character” within a column titled “Sermonograms”. The words were credited to Eleanor Roosevelt [HNFI].

In February of 1944 the saying appeared in the widely-read syndicated column of Walter Winchell where it was again credited to Roosevelt [WWF1]. In February 1945 the maxim was repeated in Winchell’s influential column. On this second occasion Winchell employed a word from his specialized vocabulary, “Frixample”, in the introduction [WWF2]:

Mrs. F.D.R. can turn out punchlines with the best of ’em. Frixample: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”

The Yale Book of Quotations, an essential reference, contains a compelling precursor to the quote under investigation listed as a cross-index term. More than one-hundred years before the cites above, in 1838, the American clergyman William Ellery Channing said the following [YWEC] [SWEC]:

No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent.

In conclusion, QI believes that Eleanor Roosevelt can be credited with expressing the core idea of this saying by 1935. Within five years the graceful modern version of the maxim was constructed. QI does not know if Roosevelt or someone else was responsible for this. But QI does believe Roosevelt’s words were the most likely inspiration.

Update History: This post was rewritten on April 30, 2012 and the updated version was placed here on May 7, 2012.

[QVFI] 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 97-98, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

[RDFI] 1940 September, The Reader’s Digest, [Free standing quotation], Page 84, Volume 37, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)

[ERNC] 1935 March 26, News And Courier, Heart Balm Suit Ban Given Support By Mrs. Roosevelt, Page 7, Charleston, South Carolina. (Google News Archive)

[OWFI] 1935 April 2, Owosso Argus-Press, So They Say!, Page 4, Column 4, Owosso, Michigan. (Google News Archive)

[LPFI] 1940 October 10, Lake Park News, The Little Newsance: Editorial by Ardell Proctor, Page 7, Column 1, Lake Park, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)

[FDFI] 1940 October 30, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, [Free standing quotation], Page 2, Column 1, Fairbanks, Alaska. (NewspaperArchive)

[HNFI] 1941 June 6, Huntingdon Daily News, Sermonograms, Page 11, Column 2, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)

[WWF1] 1944 February 29, Augusta Chronicle, Walter Winchell: In New York: Notes of an Innocent Bystander, Page 4, Column 7, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)

[WWF2] 1945 February 25, St. Petersburg Times, Walter Winchell, Page 24, Column 7, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Google News archive)

[YWEC] 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: William Ellery Channing, Page 143, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

[SWEC] 1838 [Address delivered in Boston in September 1838], Self-Culture: An Address Introductory to the Franklin Lectures, Page 80, Dutton and Wentworth, Printers, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books full view) link