Fires Can’t Be Made with Dead Embers, Nor Can Enthusiasm Be Stirred by Spiritless Men

James Baldwin? James Mark Baldwin? Stanley Baldwin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a quotation that begins with an assertion that fires cannot be made with dead embers. The quotation has often been credited to U.S. writer James Baldwin, but I haven’t been able to find a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the “Elmira Star-Gazette” of New York in May 1942. The text was two sentences long, and it occurred within a box with a narrow black border. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.
—Baldwin.

The single-name attribution was ambiguous, and over the years the quotation has been ascribed to at least three different people: U.S. philosopher James Mark Baldwin, British politician Stanley Baldwin, and U.S. author James Baldwin. The current evidence is too weak to definitively identify the creator. One may hope that future research will help solve this mystery.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

A few days after the citation above appeared, the same text with the same box format and attribution occurred in the “Plainfield Courier-News” of New Jersey. 2

In 1950 the same quotation and single-name attribution appeared as a filler item in “The Oakdale Journal” of Louisiana. 3

In 1953 a slightly altered version appeared in a Sikeston, Missouri newspaper. The contraction “can’t” was changed to “cannot”; “effort” was changed to “efforts”; and “even” was changed to “every”. Also, no ascription was listed: 4

Fires cannot be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens efforts and turns every labor into a pleasant task.

In April 1958 the following text with an attribution to James Mark Baldwin appeared in an El Paso, Texas newspaper 5 and a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania newspaper: 6

Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.
–(James Mark Baldwin)

In 1958 “Teacher’s Treasury of Stories for Every Occasion” compiled by M. Dale Baughman printed the text above, but the ascription was the single-name “Baldwin”. 7

In 1968 “The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life” included an entry with text matching the 1958 text. The ascription was the single-name “Baldwin”. 8

In 1995 the reference “Who Said That?: More than 2,500 Usable Quotes” compiled by George Sweeting credited James Mark Baldwin: 9

Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks. James Mark Baldwin

In 1997 “The Forbes Book of Business Quotations” included an entry with the text above; however, the ascription was Stanley Baldwin. 10

In 2006 the collection “Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing” compiled by Larry Chang included this single-sentence entry: 11

Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men.
~ James Baldwin, 1924-1987 ~

In conclusion, currently James Mark Baldwin is the leading candidate for author of this quotation; however, he died in 1934, and the first known instance occurred in 1942. Also, the first attribution to him occurred in 1958. Before that date the attribution was simply “Baldwin”. Overall, the supporting evidence is weak. The first ascriptions to Stanley Baldwin and James Baldwin occurred very later, and the supporting evidence for these two people is inadequate.

Image Notes: Picture of embers from VIVIANE6276 at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped.

(Great thanks to Eugene Eric Kim whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1942 May 2, Elmira Star-Gazette, Enthusiasm (Filler item), Quote Page 8, Co Elmira, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1942 May 7, Plainfield Courier-News, (Filler item), Quote Page 16, Column 2, Plainfield, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1950 October 19, The Oakdale Journal, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 6 and 7, Oakdale, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1953 January 28, The Daily Standard, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Sikeston, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1958 April 4, The El Paso Times, Words of the Wise, Quote Page 6, Column 3, El Paso, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1958 April 12, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Odd Facts, Quote Page 7, Column 5, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1958, Teacher’s Treasury of Stories for Every Occasion, Compiled by M. Dale Baughman, Topic: Enthusiasm, Quote Page 74, Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1968, The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life by Forbes Magazine, Quote Page 171, Published by Forbes, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  9. 1995, Who Said That?: More than 2,500 Usable Quotes and Illustrations, Compiled by George Sweeting, Section: Enthusiasm, Quote Page 173, Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)
  10. 1997, The Forbes Book of Business Quotations: 14,173 Thoughts on the Business of Life, Edited by Ted Goodman, Topic: Enthusiasm, Quote Page 247, Column 1, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)
  11. 2006, Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing, Compiled and Edited by Larry Chang, Section: Zeal/Zest, Quote Page 768, Column 2, Gnosophia Publishers, Washington, D.C. (Verified with scans)