Category Archives: Margaret E. Sangster

The Joy That You Give to Others Is the Joy That Comes Back to You

John Greenleaf Whittier? Margaret E. Sangster? Anonymous?

heart11Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I came across a heartfelt short poem titled “Happy New Year” containing the following line:

The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.

The verse was attributed to the prominent nineteenth-century poet John Greenleaf Whittier who died in 1892, but the earliest citation I could find was dated 1901. Was this attribution accurate? Was the work posthumous?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the common modern attribution to Whittier was inaccurate. The lines in the short poem were part of longer poem by Margaret E. Sangster titled “The Christmas Tree”, and Sangster should receive credit for her work.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations”. Sangster’s didactic poem contained 54 lines and was printed on the front page of the January 1878 issue. The first four lines described a child’s desire for a Christmas tree: 1

Our darling little Florence, our blessing and our pride,
With dimpled cheeks, and golden hair, and brown eyes open wide,
To look at every pretty thing, came flying in to me:
“O please,” she pleaded earnestly, “I want a Christmas tree.”

When the request for a tree was granted the child invited lonely and impoverished children to a Christmas party held around the tree. The final four lines of the poem were the following: 2

For somehow, not only for Christmas, but all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you;
And the more you spend in blessing the poor, the lonely, and sad,
The more to your heart’s possessing, returns to make you glad.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1878 January, The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations, The Christmas Tree by Margaret E. Sangster, Quote Page 1, Column 1 and 2, Jesse Haney & Company. New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1878 January, The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations, The Christmas Tree by Margaret E. Sangster, Quote Page 1, Column 1 and 2, Jesse Haney & Company. New York. (Google Books Full View) link