Advice Is Like Snow – The Softer It Falls, the Longer It Dwells Upon, and the Deeper It Sinks Into the Mind

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Jeremiah Seed? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Advice that is shouted as a command is often ignored. A different approach is more successful:

Advice is like snow – the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.

The prominent English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge has received credit for this thoughtful statement, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help trace this meta-advice?

Quote Investigator: Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in 1834 and this expression was assigned to him two years prior in 1832; however, QI believes that the words were based on a sermon delivered before the literary master was born.

Jeremiah Seed was a clergyman and Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford who died in 1747. A collection of his sermons which included a discourse “On Evil-Speaking” appeared shortly after his death. Seed presented three elaborate similes about giving advice gracefully: 1

We must consult the gentlest Manner and softest Seasons of Address: Our Advice must not fall, like a violent Storm, bearing down and making that to droop, which it was meant to cherish and refresh: It must descend, as the Dew upon the tender Herb; or like melting Flakes of Snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the Mind.

The popular modern version of the quotation was extracted from the above passage, simplified, and streamlined. Coleridge did not craft the simile and QI has located no direct evidence that he ever employed it. The ascription to him is unsupported.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The words of Jeremiah Seed continued to circulate decades later. For example, in 1815 the sermon “On Evil-Speaking” was reprinted in “Family Lectures: or, A Copious Collection of Sermons On Faith and Practice”. 2

In 1829 a periodical in Salem, Massachusetts called “Ladies’ Miscellany” highlighted Seed’s guidance: 3

Advice.—Mr. Seed, in a sermon on evil speaking, says, elegantly—”Our advice must not fall like a violent storm, bearing down and making that to droop which it was meant to cherish; it must descend as the dew upon the tender herb, or like melting flakes of snow—the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”

In 1832 “The Saturday Magazine” of London printed a concise simplified statement as a filler item, and provided the single word ascription “Coleridge”. 4

Advice, like snow, the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.—COLERIDGE.

In 1836 a newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina printed a passage that matched the one in “Ladies’ Miscellany” from 1829. But the paper incorrectly attributed the words to “Mr. Send” instead of “Mr. Seed”. 5

Advice.–Mr. Send, in a sermon on evil speaking says elegantly, “our advice must not fall like a violent storm, bearing down . . .

The compilers of quotation books found the saying attractive. For example, in 1836 the collector Francis West included the statement in “The Moralist, and Every Man’s Every Day-Book Consisting of Selections from Several Eminent Authors”: 6

ADVICE, like snow, the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon and the deeper it sinks into the mind. Coleridge.

In April 1839 a letter writer in a North Carolina newspaper referred to the saying and acknowledged Coleridge: 7

May I presume to give you a little advice upon this and some other subjects I may touch on? — Coleridge compares it to snow; the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.

In August 1839 the “West Kent Guardian” of London published a variant using the word “heart” instead of “mind” while crediting Coleridge: 8

Advice, like snow, the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the heart.—Coleridge.

In 1851 a newspaper in Montpelier, Vermont printed a slightly rephrased version that began with “Advice, is like snow”. No attribution was provided: 9

Advice, is like snow, the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.

The saying has appeared in a wide variety of references such as “Edge-Tools of Speech” (1886) assembled by Maturin M. Ballou 10 and “A Dictionary of Similes” (1917) compiled by Frank J. Wilstach: 11

Advice is like snow: the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into, the mind.—Coleridge.

In conclusion, Jeremiah Seed should receive credit for the sermon published in 1747. The modern quotation is a vivid simile extracted from the sermon. Samuel Taylor Coleridge did not create this statement and should not receive credit for it.

Image Notes: Picture of winter ice and snow on a tree limb from DatWuschel at Pixabay. Portrait of Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Washington Allston circa 1814.

(This inquiry was motivated by an entry in Mardy Grothe’s Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations. An entry on “Advice” reported the 1832 attribution to Coleridge but questioned its accuracy. Also, thanks to Lib Quotes and pgepps for their feedback provided via twitter.)

Notes:

  1. 1747, Discourses on Several Important Subjects: To Which Are Added Eight Sermons Preached at the Lady Moyer’s Lecture in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London by Jeremiah Seed (Rector of Emham in Hampshire, and late Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford), Volume 1 of 2, Third Edition, Sermon XIV: On Evil-Speaking, Start Page 349, Quote Page 351, Printed for R. Manby and H. S. Cox, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1815, Family Lectures: or, A Copious Collection of Sermons On Faith and Practice, Sermon LXVII: On Evil-Speaking by Jeremiah Seed, Start Page 396, Quote Page 396, Printed for F. C. and J. Rivington; G. Wilkie, J. Nunn and more, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1829 March 24, Ladies’ Miscellany, Volume 1, Number 13, The Fount, Quote Page 52, Column 2, Printed at the Register Press, Salem, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  4. 1832 September 22, The Saturday Magazine, (Filler item), Quote Page 108, Column 2, John William Parker, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1836 November 24, The North Carolina Standard, Advice, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Chronicling America)
  6. 1836, The Moralist, and Every Man’s Every Day-Book Consisting of Selections from Several Eminent Authors, Compiled by Francis West, Topic: Advice, Quote Page 56, Printed and published by the author, Cork, Ireland. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  7. 1839 April 20, Raleigh Register and North Carolina Gazette (Weekly Raleigh Register), Communication (Letter to The Register), Quote Page 1, Column 4, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1839 August 24, West Kent Guardian, (Untitled Short Item), Quote Page 3, Column 2, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  9. 1851 April 3, Green Mountain Freeman, The Family Circle, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Montpelier, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1886, Edge-Tools of Speech, Selected and Arranged by Maturin M. Ballou, Topic: Advice, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Ticknor and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  11. 1917, A Dictionary of Similes by Frank J. Wilstach, Topic: Advice, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link