Character Is Most Evident by How One Treats Those Who Can Neither Retaliate nor Reciprocate

Paul Eldridge? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I noticed that the QI website has an entry for the following expression:

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

I believe a similar statement containing the phrase “to retaliate or to reciprocate” was printed in a 1965 book called “Maxims for a Modern Man” by the novelist Paul Eldridge.

Quote Investigator: Thanks for your valuable note. In August 1948 Paul Eldridge published an article titled “Lanterns in the Night” which listed dozens of maxims. Here are three [PEJF]:

40. Evil flows backward swelling its source.

41. A man’s character is most evident by how he treats those who are not in a position either to retaliate or reciprocate.

42. Avarice is fear sheathed in gold.

In 1965 a version of this saying with a slightly different phrasing was printed in “Maxims for a Modern Man” by Paul Eldridge [PEMM]:

A man is most accurately judged by how he treats those who are not in a position either to retaliate or to reciprocate.

In 2000 the reference work “Random House Webster’s Quotationary” reprinted the adage and credited Eldridge with the following acknowledgement [RHWQ]:

PAUL ELDRIDGE (1888-1982).  Maxims for a Modern Man, 1198, 1965.

This post continues with a comment and conclusion.

QI believes that this adage can be grouped together with other similar statements [EWMF] [ALEL]:

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. — credited to Malcolm Forbes in 1972

The best way to judge an individual is by observing how he treats people who can do him absolutely no good. — Ann Landers in 1977

Yet, these expressions are not identical to Eldridge’s since they emphasize the absence of reciprocation and do not mention retaliation.

In conclusion, based on current evidence Paul Eldridge coined the maxim under investigation, and it was in circulation by 1948.  This precedes adages by Malcolm Forbes, Abigail Van Buren (Pauline Phillips), and Ann Landers (Eppie Lederer).

(Great thanks to Dave Hill who noted the existence of this adage in “Maxims for a Modern Man”. Hill runs the website “WIST: Wish I’d Said That!” which presents a valuable collection of quotations and citations. Hill knew about the 1965 version of Eldridge’s maxim because he had placed it in his database previously.)

(The images at the top of this article are the front and back covers of books co-authored by Paul Eldridge.)

Update History: On September 2, 2012 the 1965 citation was verified on paper, and on September 4 it was added to the article.

[PEJF] 1948 August, The Jewish Forum: Devoted to Safeguarding Democracy by the United Aid of Jew and Non-Jew, “Lanterns in the Night” by Paul Eldridge, [Maxim 41], Quote Page 180, [Author name is spelled “Paul Eldrige” on the article page and “Paul Eldridge” on the cover], The Jewish Forum Publishing Co., New York. (Verified with digital scans; Great thanks to the librarians at the Main Library of the University of Iowa in Iowa City)

[PEMM] 1965, Maxims for a Modern Man by Paul Eldridge, Number 1198, Quote Page 143, Thomas Yoseloff, New York. (Verified on paper)

[RHWQ] 2001, Random House Webster’s Quotationary Editor Leonard Roy Frank, Page 421, Column 1, Random House, New York. (Paperback edition; Verified on paper)

[EWMF] 1972 August 6, Hartford Courant, Coco Offered Fatty Arbuckle Role by Earl Wilson, Page 10F, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest) [The word “easily” is misspelled as “esaily” in the newspaper scan.]

[ALEL] 1977 February 1, Omaha World Herald, Dog’s Sad Tale: ‘I’m Lonesome’, Page 10, Column 2, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)

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