It Is Wiser To Find Out Than To Suppose

Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Apocryphal?

twain07Dear Quote Investigator: I would like to use the following adage during a presentation to a large group:

It is wiser to find out than to suppose.

I plan to credit Mark Twain, but I know that if I am wrong it will be very embarrassing because the entire point of the remark will be undermined. Would you please help me to replace a supposition with a fact? Can you find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a small compilation titled “More Maxims of Mark” containing quotations ascribed to Twain that was privately printed as a limited edition in November 1927 by Merle Johnson who was a rare book collector. Johnson published the first careful bibliography of Twain’s works in 1910 shortly after the writer’s death. Twain scholars believe that the sayings compiled by Johnson in this book are genuine.

A friend of QI’s accessed volume number 14 of 50 in the Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University and verified that the adage was printed on page number 8. Below is the saying together with the two succeeding entries. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

IT IS WISER TO FIND OUT THAN TO SUPPOSE.
IN LITERATURE IMITATIONS DO NOT IMITATE.
IT IS BEST TO READ THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE WE PRAY FOR RAIN.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.



The 1972 collection “Everyone’s Mark Twain” compiled by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger included the saying under the topic “Wisdom”: 2

It is wiser to find out than to suppose.
More Maxims of Mark, p. 8

In 2001 a columnist in the “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” printed a slightly altered instance without the word “to”: 3

So, I decided to tap that wonderful resource upon which so many researchers have come to depend — the Internet.

“It is wiser to find out than suppose.”

I soon learned a number of fascinating things. First, Twain was remarkably quotable. He was witty and pithy and wise.

In conclusion, QI believes the injunction highlighted by the adage has now been satisfied, and it is safe to ascribe the remark to Mark Twain although the citation is posthumous.

Image Notes: Portrait of Mark Twain circa 1907 from Underwood & Underwood via the Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to photographer Rob Greer whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 8, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified on paper; thanks to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike)
  2. 1972, Everyone’s Mark Twain, Compiled by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Topic: Wisdom, Quote Page 663, A. S. Barnes and Company, South Brunswick and New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2001 April 26, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, First Light by Dan Majors, Quote Page B1, Column 1, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)