I Wanted To Change the World. But I Have Found That the Only Thing One Can Be Sure of Changing Is Oneself

Aldous Huxley? William C. Hunter? Jacob Feuerring? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When Aldous Huxley, the author of the famous dystopian novel “Brave New World”, was young he was eager to change the world. Yet, as he grew older he concluded that he could only change himself with any confidence. Would you please help me to find his statement on this topic?

Quote Investigator: In July 1961 “The Observer” newspaper of London printed a set of quotations under the title “Sayings of the Week” which included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself. Mr. Aldous Huxley.

This citation is not ideal because the quotation did not appear directly in an interview or article by Huxley; however, currently it is the best evidence located by QI. Huxley died a couple years later in November 1963 when he was 69 years old.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In 1916 a variant expression appeared in a Minnesota business publication “The Commercial West”. A self-help writer offered pointed advice: 2

You are up against this fact—there are two parties to the contract, you and the world. In the world are a thousand million other people, and you can’t change these people. The world says, “Laugh and I’ll laugh with you, weep, and you can go to thunder for all we care.”

You can’t change the world, Bill, but you can change yourself, and when you do change you will see the world was right and you were wrong.

In 1958 the “Somerset County Herald” of England printed a passage that thematically matched the quotation under examination: 3

We all want to change the world; at least we don’t like things as they are. But the changes we look for are mostly in other people, or in our conditions. Rarely in ourselves! But where do we start unless we begin with ourselves?

On July 2, 1961 “The Observer” ascribed the quotation to Aldous Huxley as noted previously. During the following days and months the statement appeared in many newspapers. For example, later in July 1961 the “Manitowoc Herald-Times” of Wisconsin 4 “The Terre Haute Star” of Indiana, 5 and the “Alexandria Daily Town Talk” of Louisiana 6 all printed the quotation accompanied with an ascription to Aldous Huxley.

In 1967 “The Honolulu Advertiser” of Hawaii printed a variant saying spoken by Jacob Feuerring, a concert pianist and teacher: 7

“My feeling is that one can’t change the world, but one can change oneself. This is one of the main reasons I am going to Japan—a tradition exists there, kept alive in Buddhism, which hardly exists elsewhere.”

The 1969 reference “Quotations for Speakers and Writers” compiled by Allen Andrews contained the following entry: 8

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.
(At age 67)
ALDOUS HUXLEY 1894-1963

In 1971 a newspaper in Dixon, Illinois recalled the saying from the previous decade: 9

10 YEARS AGO
I wanted to change the world, but I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.—Author Aldous Huxley.

In 1999 “What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation” by Jennifer Leigh Selig included an interesting thematically pertinent quotation ascribed to an unidentified monk from hundreds of years ago. QI has verified neither this date nor this ascription: 10

Changing the World

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town, and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.
Unknown monk, A.D. 1100

In conclusion, the 1961 citation in “The Observer” provides substantive evidence that Aldous Huxley did make this remark.

Image Notes: Picture of Aldous Huxley circa 1954 in LIFE Magazine accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Hands holding the word “change” by geralt at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Mardy’s latest excellent book is “Metaphors Be With You: An A to Z Dictionary of History’s Greatest Metaphorical Quotations”.)

Notes:

  1. 1961 July 2, The Observer, Section: Weekend Review, Sayings of the Week, Quote Page 32, Column 2, London, England. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1916 January 1, The Commercial West, Sizing Up Things for Net Profit by Col. Wm. C. Hunter, Start Page 11, Quote Page 11, Column 2, Published by the Commercial West Co., Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1958 August 30, Somerset County Herald and Taunton Courier, Thoughts for the Week: Changing the World by Contributed, Quote Page 5, Column 7, Somerset, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  4. 1961 July 21, Manitowoc Herald-Times, So They Say, Quote Page 4T, Column 5, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1961 July 22, The Terre Haute Star, (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 2, Terre Haute, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1961 July 27, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, So They Say, Quote Page 6, Column 8, Alexandria, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1967 April 29, The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu Star-Advertiser), Isle Buddhism Convert Is Moving to Japan, Quote Page C4, Column 6, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1969, Quotations for Speakers and Writers, Compiled by Allen Andrews, Topic: World-Changing, Quote Page 504, Newnes Books, London and New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  9. 1971 August 12, Dixon Evening Telegraph, Things Dixon Talked About, Quote Page 2, Column 5, Dixon, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1999 Copyright, What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation by Jennifer Leigh Selig, Section: The Best Advice, Quote Page 171, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Missouri. (Verified with scans)