Experience Is the Best of Schoolmasters; Only the School-Fees Are Heavy

Thomas Carlyle? Benjamin Franklin? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Johann P. F. Richter? Minna Antrim? Heinrich Heine? William Ralph Inge?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most memorable and painful lessons are usually learned via direct experience, but the cost can be very high. A family of adages depict this point of view. Here are two instances:

  • Experience is a good school, but the fees are heavy.
  • Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is exorbitant.

This saying has been credited to Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, German writer Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, U.S. writer Minna Antrim, and others. Would you please explore this topic.

Quote Investigator: This saying has been circulating and evolving for many years; hence this is a complex topic. Here is a chronological sampling which presents a snapshot of current research:

1743: (Precursor) Experience keeps a dear school, yet Fools will learn in no other. (Benjamin Franklin)

1828: Experience is the best of schoolmasters; only the school-fees are heavy. (Thomas Carlyle)

1843: Dear bought experience is the only effectual schoolmaster. (Anon)

1856: Experience is the only schoolmaster; although the school-fees are somewhat heavy. (Attributed to Johann Paul Friedrich Richter)

1863 Experience is the best schoolmaster, but the school-fees are heavy. (Attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

1874: Experience and practice are the best schoolmasters; but the school fees are somewhat heavy. (Attributed to Johann Paul Friedrich Richter)

1893: Experience was the best of schools, but unfortunately the fees charged in it were extremely high. (Attributed to Heinrich Heine)

1902: Experience is a good teacher but she sends in terrific bills. (Minna T. Antrim)

1927: Experience is a good school, but the fees are high. (Attributed to Heinrich Heine)

1968: Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is much too high. (Anon)

The 1743 statement “Experience keeps a dear school” was a precursor that appeared in Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. The adjective “dear” meant costly or expensive. There is a separate QI article about this statement available here.

In 1828 Thomas Carlyle published an article in “The Foreign Review” of London discussing the works of the major German literary figure Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Carlyle employed the adage when he was commenting on Goethe’s version of the legendary character Faust. Carlyle believed that Faust would learn from his experiences. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Experience, indeed, will teach him, for ‘Experience is the best of schoolmasters; only the school-fees are heavy.’

Carlyle enclosed the adage within quotation marks suggesting that it was already in circulation. Thus, Carlyle can be credited with popularizing the saying, but he may not be its originator.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Experience Is the Best of Schoolmasters; Only the School-Fees Are Heavy

Notes:

  1. 1828, The Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany, Volume 1, Number 2, Goethe’s Helena (Review of Goethe’s Sämmtliche Werke), Start Page 429, Quote Page 438, Black, Young, and Young, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Experience Keeps a Dear School; Yet Fools Will Learn In No Other

Benjamin Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some people are only able to learn via direct experience. They disregard the lessons and the struggles of others. Yet, this experiential approach can be quite costly. The fees incurred may be measured in time expended, energy drained, money squandered, and injuries suffered.

The statesman Benjamin Franklin said something like: the school of experience is very expensive. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin published a popular series of books called “Poor Richard’s Almanack”, and the adage under examination appeared in the almanac for 1743 on the page dedicated to December. The words below have been underlined in red within a scan of the page. The adjective “dear” means high-priced, costly, or expensive in the context below: 1

Experience keeps a dear school,
yet Fools will learn in no other.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Experience Keeps a Dear School; Yet Fools Will Learn In No Other

Notes:

  1. 1743, Poor Richard: An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1743, Being the Third after LEAP YEAR, Benjamin Franklin, Month: December, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Source: University of Pennsylvania Library; accessed at rarebookroom.org on May 25, 2021) link

The Great Tragedy of Science—The Slaying of a Beautiful Hypothesis by an Ugly Fact

Thomas Henry Huxley? Charles Darwin? Herbert Spencer? Benjamin Franklin? John Dougall? John Tyndall?

Dear Quote Investigator: An elaborate and magnificent scientific theory can completely collapse if a contradictory fact is uncovered. A prominent scientist called this methodological occurrence one of great tragedies of science. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1870 biologist Thomas Henry Huxley delivered a speech to fellow scientists in Liverpool, England. The text appeared in the leading journal “Nature”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

But the great tragedy of Science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact—which is so constantly being enacted under the eyes of philosophers, was played, almost immediately, for the benefit of Buffon and Needham.

Huxley used a different phrasing for the expression during a personal conversation with philosopher Herbert Spencer according to statistician Francis Galton. See the 1908 citation presented further below.

This thought has displayed a powerful cultural resonance, and Huxley’s phrase has been repeated, modified, and propagated up to the present day. Here is a sampling with dates:

1870: The slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact
1871: Here is a beautiful hypothesis slain by an ugly fact
1878: A beautiful theory killed by an incontrovertible fact
1886: The slaying of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact
1890: The slaying of a beautiful theory by an awkward fact
1891: The murder of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact
1908: A beautiful theory, killed by a nasty, ugly little fact
1911: A beautiful theory killed by a wicked fact
1912: A beautiful induction killed by a nasty little fact
1918: A beautiful theory killed by a devilish little fact
1920: The murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts
1922: A murder of a lovely theory by a gang of brutal facts

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Great Tragedy of Science—The Slaying of a Beautiful Hypothesis by an Ugly Fact

Notes:

  1. 1870 September 15, Nature, Section: The British Association – Liverpool Meeting, 1870, Address of Thomas Henry Huxley, President, Start Page 400, Quote Page 402, Column 1, Macmillan and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Nothing Is Certain, Except Death and Taxes

Benjamin Franklin? Mark Twain? Christopher Bullock? Edward Ward? Daniel Defoe? Joseph Reed? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The due date of U.S. income taxes has been moved from April 2020 to July 2020 because of the pandemic. Thus, the payment of taxes has been delayed, but payment remains inevitable. Here are four versions of a pertinent saying:

  • Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.
  • Nothing stands fixed, but death and taxes.
  • Nothing can be depended on but taxes and death.
  • It’s impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.

The U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin and the humorist Mark Twain have received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin did employ this saying within a letter dated November 13, 1789 which he wrote to the French physicist Jean Baptiste Le Roy. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Many years before Franklin’s usage, the expression appeared in a 1716 farce called “The Cobler of Preston” by Christopher Bullock. The word “cobbler” was spelled “cobler”, and the word “lie” was spelled “lye” within the play. The quip was spoken by a character named Toby Guzzle who was described as “a drunken Cobler”. Here is an excerpt from the fourth edition of the play published in 1723: 2

You lye, you are not sure; for I say, Woman, ’tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes—therefore hold your Tongue, or you shall both be soundly whipt . . .

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing Is Certain, Except Death and Taxes

Notes:

  1. 1817, The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, Published from the Originals by His Grandson William Temple Franklin, Second Edition, Volume 1 of 2, Letter Title: On the Affairs of France, Letter Date: November 13, 1789, Letter From: Benjamin Franklin, Letter To: Jean Baptiste Le Roy, Start Page 265, Quote Page 266, Printed for Henry Colburn, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1723, The Cobler of Preston and the Adventures of Half an Hour, As it is acted at the Theatre-Royal in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, Written by Mr. Christopher Bullock, The Fourth Edition, Character Speaking: Toby Guzzle (a drunken Cobler), Quote Page 13, Printed for T. Corbett, and Sold by Mr. Graves, London. (A facsimile published in 1969 by Cornmarket Press from the copy in the Birmingham Shakespeare Library, London) (Verified with scans)

Whoever First Ate an Oyster Was a Brave Soul

Jonathan Swift? Benjamin Franklin? Shirley Chisholm? Thomas Moffett? John Ward? King James I of England? Thomas Fuller? John Gay? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During a commencement address I heard the following vivid advice offered to students:

Be as bold as the first man or woman to eat an oyster.

Apparently, the famous Irish literary figure Jonathan Swift and the prominent U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin both praised the courage of the gustatorial explorer who originally sampled the oyster. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Several prominent historical figures penned versions of this sentiment. Thomas Moffett was an influential English physician who died in 1604. He authored a book titled “Healths improvement: or, Rules comprizing and discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used in this nation” which appeared in an edition dated 1655. Moffett commented on the boldness of first person who ate an oyster. Spelling was not standardized when his book was published. The word “oysters” was printed as “oisters”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . onely Oisters of all fish are good raw (yet he was no Coward that first ventered on them) . . .

The diary of the Reverend John Ward included a comment about oysters. Ward was vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon in England, and the diary entry containing the following was written circa 1661. Ward credited King James I of England who had died in 1625: 2

King James said hee was a valiant man that durst first eat oysters.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Whoever First Ate an Oyster Was a Brave Soul

Notes:

  1. 1655, Title: Healths improvement: or, Rules comprizing and discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used in this nation. Written by that ever famous Thomas Muffett, Doctor in Physick: corrected and enlarged by Christopher Bennet, Doctor in Physick, and fellow of the Colledg of Physitians in London, Author: Thomas Moffett (1553-1604), Quote Page 47, Publication: London, : Printed by Tho: Newcomb for Samuel Thomson, London. (EEBO Early English Books Online)
  2. 1839, Diary of the Rev. John Ward A.M., Vicar of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Extending from 1648 to 1679, From the Original Mss. Preserved in the Library of the Medical Society of London, Arranged by Charles Severn, M.D. (Member of the Royal College of Physicians in London), Date specified on page 109: March 1, 1661, Quote Page 111, Published by Henry Colburn, London. (Google Books Full View) link

A Man Wrapped Up in Himself Makes a Very Small Bundle

Benjamin Franklin? John Ruskin? Harry Emerson Fosdick? Mae A. Byrnes? Dan Crawford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An individual who is self-absorbed typically experiences a diminished life and does not achieve great renown. Here are four versions of a figurative saying on this theme:

  • A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.
  • A person all wrapped up in herself makes a pretty small package.
  • When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a very small parcel.
  • People who are entirely wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.

This expression has been attributed to U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin, English art critic John Ruskin, and U.S. pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick.

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that this expression was used by Benjamin Franklin or John Ruskin. It was employed by Harry Emerson Fosdick by 1942, but only after it had been circulating for decades.

This saying is difficult to trace because it can be phrased in many different ways. The earliest instances located by QI were anonymous. A comical precursor evincing disdain for the self-absorbed appeared in a Nebraska newspaper in 1899. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

People who are all wrapped up in themselves ought to be bundled off together.

In 1904 a match occurred for the saying in a Clarksville, Tennessee. newspaper. The anonymous statement appeared together with miscellaneous items under the title “Bubbles”. The word “small” was absent: 2

People who are wrapped up in themselves are bound to be bundles of self conceit.

Five days later the same statement appeared in an Okolona, Mississippi newspaper under the title “Gathered Gems”. 3

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Wrapped Up in Himself Makes a Very Small Bundle

Notes:

  1. 1899 April 3, The Nebraska State Journal, Bulletin Bubbles, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1904 May 06, Daily Leaf-Chronicle, Bubbles, Quote Page 5, Column 5, Clarksville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1904 May 11, Okolona Messenger, Gathered Gems, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Okolona, Mississippi. (GenealogyBank)

Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn

Benjamin Franklin? Confucius? Xunzi? Hsüntze? Native American Saying? Shuo Yuan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following tripartite expression encapsulates an influential approach to education:

Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I remember,
involve me and I learn.

The U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin and the Chinese philosopher Confucius have both received credit for these words. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Benjamin Franklin crafted this expression. The earliest partial match known to QI occurred in the writings of Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a Confucian philosopher who lived in the third century B.C.E.

Several English renderings have been published over the years. The following excerpt is from “Xunzi: The Complete Text” within chapter 8 titled “The Achievements of the Ru”. The translator was Eric L. Hutton, and the publisher was Princeton University Press in 2014. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Not having heard of it is not as good as having heard of it. Having heard of it is not as good as having seen it. Having seen it is not as good as knowing it. Knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice. Learning arrives at putting it into practice and then stops . . .

The word “it” above referred to the proper Confucian way of life. This passage from Xunzi clearly differed from the statement under examination, yet QI believes that the Chinese saying acted as the seed for an efflorescence that included several modern variants.

Another ancient Chinese source containing a partial match is a collection of stories called the Shuo Yuan (SY). The following excerpt was translated by John Knoblock and appeared in 1990: 2

The SY says: “The ear’s hearing something is not as good as the eye’s seeing it; the eye’s seeing it is not as good as the foot’s treading upon it; the foot’s treading upon it is not as good as the hands differentiating it.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn

Notes:

  1. 2014 Copyright, Xunzi: The Complete Text, Translated by Eric L. Hutton, Chapter 8: The Achievements of the Ru, Quote Page 64, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1990, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works by John Knoblock, Volume 2: Books 7 to 16, Section: Notes, Footnote 99, Quote Page 289, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. (Verified with scans)

If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail

Benjamin Franklin? H. K. Williams? James H. Hope? E. B. Gregory? Dalton E. Brady? Robert H. Schuller? John Wooden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proper planning is fundamental to success. Benjamin Franklin has been credited with an admonitory aphorism. Here are three versions using “plan” and “prepare”:

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail.
  • The person who fails to plan, plans to fail.
  • By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.

The memorability of this statement is enhanced by the use of antimetabole: a clause is repeated with key words transposed. In this case, the suffixes are also swapped. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Benjamin Franklin employed this adage.

The first match known to QI appeared in the periodical “The Biblical World” in 1919. The Reverend H. K. Williams provided advice to people who were responsible for giving presentations to religious groups. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Be well prepared and brief in your remarks. There is positively no excuse for wasting another’s time by going to the meeting unprepared and rambling helplessly in your talk. Remember, if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail.

This valuable citation is listed in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press. 2 QI hypothesizes that Williams was using an adage that was already in circulation although he may be credited with helping to popularize it. Future researchers will likely find earlier instances.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail

Notes:

  1. 1919 January, The Biblical World, Volume 53, Number 1, Religious Education,(Excerpt from “The Group Plan” by Rev. H. K. Williams in the “Young People’s Service”, Start Page 80, Quote Page 81, Column 2, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 73, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

I Never Argue with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Roger Branigin? Mark Twain? Charles Brownson? Irving Leibowitz? William I. Greener Jr.? H. L. Mencken? Benjamin Franklin?

Dear Quote Investigator: If a newspaper editor or publisher dislikes a viewpoint you are advocating then you may have to endure a long series of negative articles. The following three statements express this notion:

  • Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel
  • I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
  • Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.

Many famous wordsmiths have been credited with this saying, e.g., Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken. I become very suspicious when so many luminaries receive credit. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest citation located by QI appeared in “The Indianapolis News” of Indiana in 1962. Attorney Roger Branigin delivered a speech to more than 600 listeners at a conference. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Branigin, active for years in Democratic politics and an aspirant for the nomination for governor in 1955, said in referring to newspaper publishers, “I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

Branigin’s policy of avoiding arguments with news people may have helped him. He became the governor of Indiana a few years later in 1965, and he served for one four-year term. Currently, Branigin is the leading candidate for creator of this saying although there is evidence that others used it in roughly the same timeframe.

Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken had all died before 1962; there is no substantive evidence that they employed the saying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Argue with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Notes:

  1. 1962 January 15, The Indianapolis News, Economy, Precision Urged on Pressmen, Quote Page 17, Column 7 and 8, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

Those Who Are Good at Making Excuses Are Seldom Good at Anything Else

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.

Continue reading Those Who Are Good at Making Excuses Are Seldom Good at Anything Else

Notes:

  1. 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
  2. 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