We Must Walk Consciously Only Part Way Toward Our Goal, and Then Leap in the Dark To Our Success

Henry David Thoreau? William Ellery Channing? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you are pursuing a goal you should be guided by conscious and unconscious thoughts. These two complementary elements will each take you part of the way to the goal. As you approach the objective you must make a leap in the dark to attain success.

Philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau said something like this. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: On March 11, 1859 Thoreau wrote the following in his journal. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Thoreau died in 1862. A biography appeared in 1874 by one of his close friends, William Ellery Channing. The text used extensive excerpts from Thoreau’s writings. Here is a longer passage containing the target quotation: 2

The memorable thought, the happy expression, the admirable deed are only partly ours. The thought came to us because we were in a fit mood; also we were unconscious and did not know that we had said or done a good thing. We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success. What we do best or most perfectly is what we have most thoroughly learned by the longest practice, and at length it falls from us without our notice, as a leaf from a tree.

In 1963 “Theodore Dreiser Presents The Living Thoughts of Thoreau” included the quotation: 3

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.

In 1989 researchers at the Library of Congress explored the provenance of the remark, and they were unable to trace it. The reference work “Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service” contained the following entry: 4

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.
Author unknown. Attributed to Henry David Thoreau, but not found in his works.

In 1999 “What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation” by Jennifer Leigh Selig included an entry for the remark: 5

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.
Henry David Thoreau

In conclusion, Henry David Thoreau deserves credit for the remark he wrote in his journal entry dated March 2, 1859. The text was published years later in 1873 and 1906.

Image Notes: Illustration of person leaping from Sasin Tipchai at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Annette Butikofer who made two inquiries. QI formulated this question based on the second inquiry and QI performed this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1906, The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Edited by Bradford Torrey, Journal: March 2, 1859 to November 30, 1859, Volume 12, Date: March 11, 1859, Start Page 35, Quote Page 39, Houghton Mifflin and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1873, Thoreau: The Poet-Naturalist With Memorial Verses by William Ellery Channing, Chapter 16: Moral, Quote Page 314 and 315, Roberts Brothers, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust) link
  3. 1963, Theodore Dreiser Presents The Living Thoughts of Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau and Theodore Dreiser, Chapter 8: Free Will—Necessity, Quote Page 86, A Premier Book: Fawcett Publications, Greenwich, Connecticut. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1989, Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service, Edited by Suzy Platt, Topic: Success, Quote Page 335, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1999 Copyright, What Now?: Words of Wisdom for Life after Graduation by Jennifer Leigh Selig, Section: The Meaning of Success, Quote Page 108, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Missouri. (Verified with scans)