To Repeat What Others Have Said, Requires Education; To Challenge It, Requires Brains

Mary Pettibone Poole? Anonymous?

keyhole10Dear Quote Investigator: Students must be able to memorize some factual material, but an important emphasis in learning should be placed on the development of critical and analytical thinking. The following statement is astute:

To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains.

Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: In 1938 a woman named Mary Pettibone Poole released a compilation of adages and quotations under the humorous title “A Glass Eye at a Keyhole”. The publisher was Dorrance and Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which means that the resourceful and energetic Poole funded its publication. The remark appeared in a section called “Excess Prophets”, and no attribution was listed: 1

To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains.

This was the earliest occurrence of the quotation known to QI. Whether Poole crafted the statement was not certain. Several other unattributed sayings in the book were already in circulation before the collection was published. Nevertheless, the book was an important locus for the popularization of the saying. In addition, based on current evidence QI would ascribe the words to Poole.

Another intriguing expression from the book has been analyzed on this website. “He who laughs, lasts!” was printed in a section called “Beggars Can’t Be Losers” in Poole’s work, and QI located published instances starting in 1917. Here is a link to the relevant entry.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1938 “The Galveston Daily News” of Galveston, Texas reported on the release of Poole’s book and stated that she was a former resident of the city: 2

“A Glass Eye at a Keyhole” is the title of a book by Mrs. Mary Pettibone Poole of Syracuse, N. Y. daughter of Frank G. Pettibone former vice president and general manager of the G., C. & S.F. Rail road. . .

A note from the publisher said:

The author, a cousin of Samuel (Mark Twain) Clemens, fortunately shares in the family humor and proves it with a book that would make Walter Winchell’s mouth water.

In 1997 an article in the “St. Paul Pioneer Press” discussed a newly released edition of “The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” compiled by Rosalie Maggio. The book reviewer mentioned the quotation although the title given for Poole’s book was slightly altered: 3

She found gems in some of some obscure books, such as Mary Pettibone Poole’s “A Glass Eye and a Keyhole” (1938). Poole’s wisdom: “To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains.”

In 2008 the adage was printed in the “Lodi News-Sentinel” of Lodi, California with an ascription to Poole: 4

QUOTE OF THE WEEK “To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains.” — Mary Pettibone Poole

In conclusion, Mary Pettibone Poole included this saying in her 1938 compilation. At this time QI knows of no earlier evidence and suggests that the words should be ascribed to Poole.

Image Notes: The header picture was constructed by resizing, combining, and cropping multiple image files from Pixabay. Keyhole from schuetz-mediendesign. Mortar board from Kaz. Diploma from Nemo. Brain from OpenClips.

(Great thanks to Philip Montgomery whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Montgomery correctly noted the presence of the saying in Poole’s 1938 work. Many thanks to Dennis Lien for accessing and thoroughly examining “A Glass Eye at a Keyhole”.)

Notes:

  1. 1938, A Glass Eye at a Keyhole by Mary Pettibone Poole, Section: Excess Prophets, Quote Page 51, Published by Dorrance and Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)
  2. 1938 June 9, Galveston Daily News, Former Galveston Woman to Have Book Published, Quote Page 5, Column 7, Galveston, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. Date: 1997 March 16, Newspaper: St. Paul Pioneer Press, Section: Showtime, Column: Readers and Writers, Article title: As Good as Her Words / by Compiling a Massively Researched Reference Work of the Wisdom of Women, St. Paul Writer Rosalie Maggio may be Making Waves – But She’s Not Afraid to Rock the Quote, Page number: 11E, Author: Mary Ann Grossmann (Staff Columnist), Newspaper location: St. Paul, Minnesota. Database: NewsBank Access World News.
  4. 2008 November 10, Lodi News-Sentinel, Epigraph for “The Learning Page”, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Lodi, California. (Google News Archive)