Success Don’t Konsist in Never Making Blunders, But in Never Making the Same One the Seckond Time

Josh Billings? Henry Wheeler Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Making mistakes is unavoidable in life. There is an insightful adage stating that the key to success is not making the same mistake twice. Would you please help me to find a citation for this notion?

Quote Investigator: In February 1872 “The Daily State Journal” of Alexandria, Virginia published a miscellaneous collection of sayings under the title “General Items” including the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

—Josh Billings says: “Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.”

Josh Billings was the pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw. He often employed nonstandard spelling to represent distinctive pronunciations.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

QI has also explored a different but related family of adages under the title: The person who never makes a mistake will never make anything.

In February 1872 the adage under examination appeared under the byline of Josh Billings in a newspaper article titled “Molassis Kandy”. These three items from Billings occurred in the article: 2

Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.

He who trusts tew luck for his happiness, will be lucky when he gits it.

While we are poor, the necessarys ov life are the luxurys; after we git ritch. the luxurys are the necessarys.

Newspapers sometimes employed standard spelling when reprinting the words of Billings. For example, in March 1872 the “Fayette County Herald” of Ohio published this: 3

— Josh Billings says: “Success don’t consist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the second time.”

In 1874 the compilation “Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor” included the saying together with several thematically related remarks: 4

Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.

The man who never makes enny blunders seldum makes enny good hits.

The man who haz got into the habit ov never making enny blunders, iz altogether too good to liv in this world.

The most suckcessful men i hav ever known, are those who are konstantly making blunders, but never seem tew kno it.

The adage has continued to circulate for decades. In 1954 “Think” magazine from IBM corporation printed the following variant with “does not” instead of “don’t”: 5

Success does not consist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the second time.
—H. W. SHAW

In 1997 “The Forbes Book of Business Quotations” included an instance of the saying: 6

Success does not consist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the second time.
Henry Wheeler Shaw (Josh Billings)

In conclusion, Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw) should receive credit for this remark. QI would employ the version given in the 1874 “Everybody’s Friend” compilation by Billings.

Image Notes: Picture of an eraser from Hans Braxmeier at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Marian T. Wirth who inquired about the related family of sayings mentioned above. His message led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1872 February 2, The Daily State Journal, General Items, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Alexandria, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1872 February 3, St. Joseph Herald, Molassis Kandy by Josh Billings (Acknowledgement to New York Weekly), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Saint Joseph, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1872 March 7, Fayette County Herald, (Filler item), Quote Page 1, Column 5, Washington, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1874, Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor by Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), Mollassis Kandy, Quote Page 212, Kindling Wood, Quote Page 259, Phish Bawls, Quote Page 260, Fust Impreshuns, Quote Page 251, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1954 February, Think, Volume 20, Section: Thoughts (or Poetry), Quote Page 29, International Business Machines Corp., New York. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1997, The Forbes Book of Business Quotations: 14,173 Thoughts on the Business of Life, Edited by Ted Goodman, Topic: Success, Quote Page 808, Column 1, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)