Judge Each Day Not By the Harvest You Reap But By the Seeds You Plant

Robert Louis Stevenson? William Arthur Ward? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An eloquent agricultural metaphor occurs within an astute proverb about the value of preparation and investment:

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.

The prominent Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson has received credit for this saying, but I have never seen a solid citation. Would you please help me to determine the true crafter of this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Robert Louis Stevenson said or wrote this statement. He died in 1894, and the earliest match located by QI occurred several decades afterwards in May 1963 within the “Oklahoma City Star” newspaper of Oklahoma.

The saying was ascribed to William Arthur Ward who achieved fame as a motivational author and educator. Ward’s phrasing slightly differed from the version later attributed to Stevenson. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.—William A. Ward

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The saying continued to circulate in 1967 when it appeared in the “Fort Worth Star-Telegram” of Texas. A short article titled “Pertinent Proverbs” by William A. Ward included these two items: 2

As the seed is made for the soil, so man is made for service.

Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.

In 1975 an anonymous instance began to appear within newspaper advertisements for pharmacies in Ohio 3 and Pennsylvania: 4

Prescriptions for Peace of Mind:
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.

In 1980 an anonymous shortened instance appeared in “Mac’s Giant Book of Quips & Quotes”: 5

Judge each day, not by the harvest, but by the seeds you plant.

In 1990 the saying was printed in the book “Persuasive Business Speaking” by Elayne Snyder. Oddly, the words had been implausibly reassigned to the famous author of “Treasure Island” and “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”: 6

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

In August 1990 a newspaper in McAllen, Texas misspelled the name of the famous author: 7

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant. — Robert Lewis Stevenson

In 1997 a different phrasing appeared in “The Book of Positive Quotations”. The word “its” was misspelled: 8

Judge each day not by it’s harvest, but by the seeds you plant.
—Anon.

In 2000 an anonymous variant using “sow” instead of “plant” occurred in “A Thousand Paths To Wisdom” assembled by David Baird: 9

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you sow.

In 2006 an instance with the additional word “that” appeared in “Treasury of Wit & Wisdom” compiled by the Reader’s Digest editors: 10

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.
— Robert Louis Stevenson

In conclusion, QI believes that William Arthur Ward should receive credit for this saying based on the earliest known citations. The attribution to Robert Louis Stevenson first appeared decades after his death, and QI has been unable to find any substantive support for the linkage.

Image Notes: Public domain picture of the painting “The Sower (after Millet)” by Vincent van Gogh circa 1889. Image has been cropped, resized, and retouched.

(Great thanks to Yoel Greenberg whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1963 May 17, Oklahoma City Star, Page Title: Pennsylvania Avenue Methodist Church, Post Script, Quote Page M-110, Column 1, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1967 May 26, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Pertinent Proverbs by William A. Ward, Quote Page 4-D, Column 6, Fort Worth, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1975 June 24, The Evening Review, Prescriptions for Peace of mind (Advertisement for Sevy’s Prescription Pharmacy, East Liverpool, Ohio), Quote Page 3, Column 8, East Liverpool, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1975 July 1, Public Opinion, Prescriptions for Peace of mind (Advertisement for Park Ave. Pharmacy), Quote Page 15, Column 4, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1980, Mac’s Giant Book of Quips & Quotes by E. C. McKenzie, Topic: Judging, Quote Page 276, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified with scans)
  6. 1990, Persuasive Business Speaking by Elayne Snyder, Part 3, Chapter 12: Verbal Strategies—Some Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Speeches, Quote Page 148, Amacom: American Management Association, New York. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1990 August 5, The Monitor, Ask Sally by Sally Hardwicke Brace, Quote Page 27A, Column 6, McAllen, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1997, The Book of Positive Quotations, Compiled by John Cook, Part 2: Living One Day at a Time, Section: Evenings, Quote Page 243, Fairview Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Verified with scans)
  9. 2000 Copyright, A Thousand Paths To Wisdom, Assembled by David Baird, Chapter: Thoughts to Live By, Page Number 439, MQP – MQ Publications Limited, London. (Verified with scans)
  10. 2006, Treasury of Wit & Wisdom: 4,000 of the Funniest, Cleverest, Most Insightful Things Ever Said, Compiled by Jeff Bredenberg, Topic: Choosing Your Path, Quote Page 62, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans)