Lord Byron? William Drummond? Marguerite Gardiner? Andrew Carnegie? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite quotation is a brilliant tripartite observation about rationality. Here are two versions:
(1) Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.
(2) He, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; and he, who dares not, is a slave.
This saying has confusingly been ascribed to two very different individuals: romantic poet Lord Byron and Scottish philosopher William Drummond. Would you please untangle this attribution?
Quote Investigator: In 1805 William Drummond published “Academical Questions”, and the target quotation appeared in the final lines of the preface. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Prejudice may be trusted to guard the outworks for a short space of time, while Reason slumbers in the citadel; but if the latter sink into a lethargy, the former will quickly erect a standard for herself. Philosophy, wisdom, and liberty, support each other; he, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; and he, who dares not, is a slave.
Lord Byron should not receive credit for this saying. There are two potential sources of confusion. Byron’s major poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” has usually been published together with notes. One of the notes for the fourth canto contains the quotation above. The words are credited to William Drummond, but careless readers may have reassigned the statement directly to Byron.
The other possible wellspring of confusion is a book by Lord Byron’s friend Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington. She described at length her conversations with the poet, and she stated that Byron recommended Drummond’s works while employing the quotation under analysis. Byron credited Drummond when he used the line, but careless individuals may have incorrectly credited Byron.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
The 1819 edition of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” by Lord Byron included a note for the first line of verse CXXVII in canto IV. These were the first four lines of the verse: 2
Yet let us ponder boldly–’tis a base
Abandonment of reason to resign
Our right of thought–our last and only place
Of refuge; this, at least, shall still be mine:
The note contained an extensive excerpt from the preface of “Academical Questions” by William Drummond. The book was acknowledged although Drummond’s name was not mentioned. The quotation occurred at the end of the note: 3
“Philosophy, wisdom, and liberty, support each other; he who will not reason, is a bigot; he who cannot, is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave.” Preface, p. xiv, xv. vol. i. 1805.
In 1823 a rephrased version appeared as a filler item without attribution in the “New England Farmer” of Boston, Massachusetts: 4
He that will not reason, is a bigot; he that can not reason, is a fool; and he that dares not reason, is a slave.
By 1833 the confusion concerning the attribution had reached print. A political essay titled “Observations on the Proposed Legislative Changes in Factory Labour” employed the saying as an epigraph with an attribution to Lord Byron: 5
HE WHO WILL NOT REASON IS A BIGOT; HE WHO CANNOT IS A FOOL; AND HE WHO DARES NOT IS A SLAVE. BYRON.
In 1834 Marguerite Gardiner published “Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington”, and she described an exchange during which Byron effusively praised William Drummond, and he repeated the quotation: 6
“When you go to Naples you must make acquaintance with Sir William Drummond,” said Byron, “for he is certainly one of the most erudite men and admirable philosophers now living. He has all the wit of Voltaire, with a profundity that seldom appertains to wit, and writes so forcibly, and with such elegance and purity of style, that his works possess a peculiar charm.”
“Have you read his ‘Academical Questions?’ if not, get them directly, and I think you will agree with me, that the preface to that work alone would prove Sir William Drummond an admirable writer. He concludes it by the following sentence, which I think one of the best in our language :— ‘Prejudice may be trusted to guard the outworks for a short space of time, while Reason slumbers in the citadel; but if the latter sink into a lethargy, the former will quickly erect a standard for herself. Philosophy, wisdom, and liberty, support each other: he who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave.‘ Is not the passage admirable?” continued Byron; “how few could have written it, and yet how few read Drummond’s works! they are too good to be popular.”
In 1867 Reverend James Lee published “Bible Illustrations: Consisting of Apophthegms, Maxims, Proverbs, Sententious Thoughts in Poetry and Prose”. A rephrased instance of the saying was ascribed to Lord Byron: 7
He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; and he that dares not reason is a slave.—Byron.
In 1881 a compilation called “Treasury of Wisdom, Wit and Humor, Odd Comparisons and Proverbs” contained an entry crediting Byron: 8
He who will not reason, is a bigot; he who cannot, is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave. Byron.
In 1920 the autobiography of Andrew Carnegie was published posthumously. The business titan described a visit he made to the house of Major Stokes who was the chief counsel of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Carnegie was deeply impressed by a passage he read in an unnamed book displayed in Stokes’s residence: 9
The grandeur of Mr. Stokes’s home impressed me, but the one feature of it that eclipsed all else was a marble mantel in his library. In the center of the arch, carved in the marble, was an open book with this inscription:
“He that cannot reason is a fool,
He that will not a bigot,
He that dare not a slave.”
These noble words thrilled me. I said to myself, “Some day, some day, I’ll have a library” (that was a look ahead) “and these words shall grace the mantel as here.” And so they do in New York and Skibo to-day.
In 2003 “The Boston Globe” published a different instance under the title “Reflection of the day” while crediting Byron. The statement used “those” instead of “he”: 10
Those who will not reason are bigots, those who cannot are fools, and those who dare not are slaves.
In conclusion, William Drummond should receive credit for the expression he wrote in 1805. There is evidence that Lord Byron used this saying, but he did not coin it; instead, he credited Drummond. Andrew Carnegie saw the saying in a book, and he encouraged some of the libraries he supported financially to display the saying.
Image Notes: Painting by J. M. W. Turner depicting “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” exhibited in 1832. Portrait of Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington circa 1822 by Thomas Lawrence. Images have been cropped and resized.
(Great thanks to Louise Hope whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Hope pointed to the 1805 citation showing William Drummond was the likely creator, but she also noted the ascription to Lord Byron and remarked that Byron’s 1821 play “The Two Foscari” was sometimes cited. Yet, the quotation was not present in the play. Thanks to Evidence-Based Brooks who pointed to the 1920 citation.)
- 1805, Academical Questions by the Right Honourable William Drummond Volume 1, Section: Preface, Start Page iii, Quote Page xv, Printed by W. Bulmer, and Company, London; Sold by Messrs. Cadell and Davies, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1819, The Works of the Right Honourable Lord Byron, Volume VII, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV, Stanza CXXVII, Quote Page 154, John Murray, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1819, The Works of the Right Honourable Lord Byron, Volume VII, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; Cantos III and IV, Notes to the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, (Note 57, Page 154, Line 10, Yet let us ponder boldly), Quote Page 259, John Murray, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1823 March 1, New England Farmer, (Filler item), Quote Page 248, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1833, Observations on the Proposed Legislative Changes in Factory Labour, Epigraph, Quote Page 5, Bancks and Company, Manchester, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1834, Conversations of Lord Byron With the Countess of Blessington (Marguerite Gardiner), Quote Page 238 and 239, Henry Colburn, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1867, Bible Illustrations: Consisting of Apophthegms, Maxims, Proverbs, Sententious Thoughts in Poetry and Prose, Selected and edited by Rev. James Lee, Volume 6, Section: 1 Thessalonians – Chapter 5, Quote Page 256, Alfred Gadsby, Steam Machine Printer, London. (Year 1867 is based on the date December 16, 1867 which appears at the end of preface to volume 1; the preface mentions all six volumes)(Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1881, Treasury of Wisdom, Wit and Humor, Odd Comparisons and Proverbs, Compiled and arranged by Adam Woolever, Fourth Edition, Topic: Reason, Quote Page 333, Column 2, E. Claxton & Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1920, Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Carnegie, Edited by John C. Van Dyke, Chapter 6: Railroad Service, Quote Page 82, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 2003 March 12, The Boston Globe, Reflection for the day, Quote Page E4, Column 5, Boston, Massachusetts. (Newspapers_com) ↩