Benjamin Franklin? Theodore Edward Hook? Maria Edgeworth? Arthur Wellesley? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The statesman Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the following aphorism. Here are two versions:
- A person good at making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
- A man who is good at making excuses is good for nothing else.
I have never seen a precise citation which makes me suspicious. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, and the earliest two pertinent citations located by QI appeared in 1809. The book “Liber Facetiarum: Being a Collection of Curious and Interesting Anecdotes” included a tale ascribing the nugget of wisdom to Franklin: 1
A young American having broken an appointment with Dr Franklin, came to him the following day, and made a very handsome apology for his absence: He was proceeding, when the doctor stopped him with, “My good boy, say no more, you have said too much already; for the man who is good at making an excuse, is seldom good at any thing else.
Anecdotes of D. F.
Also, in 1809 the text of Theodore Edward Hook’s work titled “Safe and Sound: An Opera in Three Acts” was published in London. A character delivered the line while criticizing another character: 2
Lind: I assure you I did not mean——
Baron. Make no excuse—a man who is good at making excuses is seldom good at any thing else. Here come the guards—get away—get away.
Lind. Generous man
QI is unable to judge the reliability of the anecdote. Whether the opera influenced the composition of the anecdote or vice versa also remains unclear. Perhaps future researchers will identify earlier citations.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1809, Liber Facetiarum: Being a Collection of Curious and Interesting Anecdotes, Quote Page 182, Printed by and for D. Akenhead and Sons, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1810 (1809 London Edition), The English and American Stage, Volume 34, Safe and Sound: An Opera in Three Acts by Theodore Edward Hook, Performed at The Lyceum Theatre in London, Start Page 2, Quote Page 40, Published by D. Longworth, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩