The Love You Give Away Is the Only Love You Keep

Elbert Hubbard? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

love11Dear Quote Investigator: I’m intrigued by the following counter-intuitive adage:

The love we give away is the only love we keep.

Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Elbert Hubbard was the founder of a community of artisans called Roycrofters who were located in East Aurora, New York. He also collected and synthesized adages which appeared in his books and periodicals. The December 1902 edition of “The Philistine” included the following passage from Hubbard. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Law of Consequences works both ways: by associating with the sinner and recognizing the good in him, you unconsciously recognize the good in yourself. The love you give away is the only love you keep—by benefiting another you benefit yourself.

The above instance used the pronoun “you” instead of “we”. Hubbard constructed and disseminated a few variant statements.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Love You Give Away Is the Only Love You Keep


  1. 1902 December, The Philistine, Volume 16, Number 1, Heart to Heart Talks with Philistines by the Pastor of His Flock, Start Page 1, Quote Page 13 and 14, Society of the Philistines, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Life Is Just One Damn Thing After Another

Mark Twain? Lilian Bell? Elbert Hubbard? Frank Ward O’Malley? Bruce Calvert? H. L. Mencken? Charles Dickens? Edna St. Vincent Millay? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement of exasperation and resignation has been attributed to the luminary Mark Twain, the aphorist Elbert Hubbard, and the journalist Frank Ward O’Malley:

Life is just one damn thing after another.

This situation is confusing. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong evidence appeared in 1909 when several instances were published in periodicals. In addition, a book titled “The Concentrations of Bee” by Lilian Bell included the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Bob has a motto on his wall which says ‘Life is just one damned thing after another!'” said Jimmie. But I refused to smile. I was too distinctly annoyed.

The lead time for publishing a book has traditionally been lengthy; hence, Lilian Bell may have written her novel before 1909. Bell stated within the text that the adage was already being posted on walls.

On March 5, 1909 “The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader” of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania printed the small filler item shown below. 2 This was the earliest instance known to QI with a complete date; it was located by top researcher Bill Mullins, and it was included in the important reference “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”: 3

During the following weeks, months, and years the popular saying was widely disseminated. In December 1909 Elbert Hubbard printed the expression without attribution in a journal he was editing called “The Philistine”. In March 1910 a man named Bruce Calvert was credited with the saying. In 1919 the prominent cultural commentator H. L. Mencken ascribed the phrase to Mark Twain. After the death of Frank Ward O’Malley in 1932 some obituary notices credited him with the saying. In 1942 Mencken reconsidered his judgement and linked the saying to both O’Malley and Hubbard. Detailed information is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is Just One Damn Thing After Another


  1. 1909, The Concentrations of Bee by Lilian Bell, Quote Page 241, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1909 March 5, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 144, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

If You Build a Better Mousetrap the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Elbert Hubbard? Sarah S. B. Yule? John R. Paxton? Orison Swett Marden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A remarkably popular adage about innovation highlights mousetraps and celebrity:

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

The origin of this saying was complex, and the topic has been contentious. Historically, the following people have been linked to the phrase: philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, aphorist Elbert Hubbard, clergyman John R. Paxton, and quotation collector Sarah S. B. Yule. Would you please examine this subject?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strongly matching statement located by QI was published in “The Atlanta Constitution” of Atlanta, Georgia on May 11, 1882 in a section called “Current Comment”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The Value of Good Work,
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.

Emerson died on April 27, 1882, so the above passage was ascribed to him shortly after his death. In the following days, months, and years the quotation appeared in a wide variety of periodicals and books together with the acknowledgement. For example, on May 15, 1882 the text along with Emerson’s name was printed in “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio. 2 On May 19, 1882 it was reprinted in the “The Decatur Daily Republican” of Decatur, Illinois. 3

Minor alterations in the text occurred as the quotation was widely replicated. The term mousetrap was sometimes presented as two words: “mouse trap” and sometimes hyphenated: “mouse-trap”. In modern times, the term often appears as a single unhyphenated word: “mousetrap”. The word “neighbors” was sometimes given in the singular form.

The saying was employed as a filler item in newspapers, and it also appeared in columns containing miscellaneous short news items and sayings. The specific circumstances when Emerson spoke or wrote the statement were not specified.

Over the decades the phrasing has evolved. For example, by 1901 a version with “build a better mouse-trap” instead of “make a better mouse-trap” was circulating.

An exact match for the passage above has never been found in the published writings or personal journals of Emerson. However, a solid thematic match was written in his journal dated 1855 in a section about “Common Fame”. A mousetrap was not mentioned; instead, other goods and services were specified: 4

Common Fame. I trust a good deal to common fame, as we all must. If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.

Emerson was a popular speaker who delivered numerous public lectures over a period of decades. He used his journals as source material for his speeches, but the phrasing employed in the notebooks and speeches was variable. QI believes Emerson probably did voice the passage with “mouse trap” during a speech.

Indeed, a woman named Sarah S. B. Yule stated that she heard one of Emerson’s public addresses and copied the “mouse trap” statement into a notebook. In 1889 she placed the remark into a published compilation of quotations and adages titled “Borrowings”. Detailed information is given further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Build a Better Mousetrap the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door


  1. 1882 May 11, Atlanta Constitution, Current Comment: The Value of Good Work: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest)
  2. 1882 May 15, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Personal, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1882 May 19, Decatur Daily Republican, Tea-Table Talk, Quote Page 2, Column 2, Decatur, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1912, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations, Edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, 1849-1855, Volume 8, Year Specified for Journal Entry: 1855, Quote Page 528, Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

People Who Say It Cannot Be Done Should Not Interrupt Those Who Are Doing It

George Bernard Shaw? Puck? Saxby’s Magazine? Elbert Hubbard? Confucius? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage is the perfect antidote to excessive negativity and obstructionism:

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

These words are often attributed to Asian sage Confucius and to the acclaimed playwright George Bernard Shaw; unfortunately, I have not been able to locate any solid data to back up this claim. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the ascriptions to Confucius and Shaw.

QI hypothesizes that the modern expression evolved from a comment about the rapidity of change and innovation at the turn of the century that was printed in the humor magazine “Puck” in December 1902. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Things move along so rapidly nowadays that people saying: “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.

Multiple newspapers and journals reprinted the remark in 1903. One instance appeared on March 7, 1903 in a periodical called “The Public” based in Chicago, Illinois. An acknowledgment to the humor magazine “Puck” was appended: 2

Things move along so rapidly nowadays that people saying: “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.—Puck.

On March 13, 1903 an instance was published in “The Evansville Courier” of Evansville, Indiana with an acknowledgement to “Saxby’s Magazine”. The statements above and below were both printed as filler items without additional contextual information: 3

Some philosopher takes time to remark that things move along so rapidly nowadays that people who say “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.—Saxby’s Magazine.

In April 1903 a journal for educators and parents called “Kindergarten Magazine” printed an instance that exactly matched the statement in “The Public”. The “Puck” acknowledgement was included: 4

During the ensuing decades the expression was reshaped. In 1914 a charismatic aphorism constructor named Elbert Hubbard printed a variant in his journal “The Philistine”, but he disclaimed authorship. By 1962 a pseudo Confucian version had been fabricated, and by 2004 a version attributed to George Bernard Shaw was circulating.

Additional citations in chronological order are given below.

Continue reading People Who Say It Cannot Be Done Should Not Interrupt Those Who Are Doing It


  1. 1902 December 24, Puck, Volume 52, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Published at the Puck Building, New York, Copyright Keppler and Schwarzmann, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1903 March 7, The Public, Number 257, Editor Louis F. Post, (Filler item), Quote Page 766, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1903 March 16, The Evansville Courier (Evansville Courier and Press), (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Evansville, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1903 April, Kindergarten Magazine, Volume 15, Number 8, (Filler item), Quote Page 488, Kindergarten Magazine Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing

Aristotle? Elbert Hubbard? William Pitt? Fred Shero? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Receiving criticism is an unpleasant experience, but it is also inevitable. If your actions in the world are significant then you will draw detractors. This notion is cleverly expressed in the following pointed remark:

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

This statement of anti-advice has been attributed to two very different figures: the ancient Greek sage Aristotle and the American aphorist publisher Elbert Hubbard. Who do you think deserves credit?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found any substantive evidence to support an ascription to Aristotle.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an 1898 collection of short essays titled “Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen” by Elbert Hubbard. A piece about the abolitionist politician William H. Seward noted that he was the target of an assassination attempt. But Hubbard suggested that one must brave censure and danger to live a full and meaningful life. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing—court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.

Hubbard crafted multiple versions of the expression, and the saying was often attributed to him in the early decades of the 1900s.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing


  1. 1898, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard, Section: William H. Seward, Start Page 363, Quote Page 370, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York; The Knickerbocker Press, New York. (Edition copyright 1898; Reprint date November 1901) (HathiTrust Full View) link link

The Difference Between Stupidity and Genius Is That Genius Has Its Limits

Albert Einstein? Alexandre Dumas, fils? Elbert Hubbard? Brooks F. Beebe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following funny saying is usually attributed to Albert Einstein:

The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

Yet, no one provides any justification for crediting the brilliant scientist with this jest. Is this another fake Einstein quote?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. Indeed, it is listed in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

A precursor statement written in French appeared in volume 2 of the “Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle” (Great Universal Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century) within an entry for “Bêtise” (Stupidity). This volume was published circa 1865, and the quotation was credited to Alexandre Dumas: 2

Une chose qui m’humilie profondément est de voir que le génie humain a des limites, quand la bêtise humaine n’en a pas. (Alex. Dum.)

One possible translation into English is the following:

One thing that humbles me deeply is to see that human genius has its limits while human stupidity does not.

The attribution “Alex. Dum.” was probably a reference to Alexandre Dumas, fils, who was a dramatist known for the work “The Lady of the Camellias”, widely referred to as “Camille”. He shared his name with his father, Alexandre Dumas, père, who was the author of the popular novels “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers”.

Another statement written in French appeared in the journal of a scholarly association in 1886. The words were placed between quotation marks to indicate that the joke was already in circulation, and no specific attribution was given. 3

« Le génie humain a des bornes, Mais la sottise n’en a pas. »

One possible translation into English is the following:

“Human genius has its limits, but stupidity does not.”

The earliest evidence in English located by QI was published in a periodical called “The Travelers’ Record” in 1890 which acknowledged a French newspaper. The saying was included in a list titled “Some of Dumas’s Maxims”. Here were three items from the list. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 4

Some of Dumas’s Maxims
[L’Echo de Paris, translated in the Transatlantic]

Let all your alms-giving be anonymous. It has the double advantage of suppressing at the same time ingratitude and abuse.

God made fools in order that life might be more tolerable to people of wit.

What distresses me is to see that human genius has limits and human stupidity none.

The saying has been circulating and evolving in English for more than one hundred years. An instance was attributed to Albert Einstein by 1994; however, Einstein died in 1955, so this citation has little probative value.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Difference Between Stupidity and Genius Is That Genius Has Its Limits


  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Page 478, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. Circa 1865, Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle: Français, Historique, Géographique, Mythologique, Bibliographique, etcetera, Volume 2, Entry: Bêtise, Quote Page 650, Column 1, Published by Pierre Larousse, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1886, Bulletin de la Société Libre D’émulation du Commerce et de L’industrie de la Seine-Inférieure, “Dissertation sur la vulgarisation de la langue latine” par M. E. Nicolle, Start Page 85, Quote Page 86, Imprimerie de Espérance Cagniard, Rouen, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1890 February, The Travelers’ Record, Volume 25, Some of Dumas’s Maxims, (L’Echo de Paris, translated in the Transatlantic), Quote Page 8, Column 2, (Google Books Full View) link

The Graveyards Are Full of Indispensable Men

Charles De Gaulle? Georges Clemenceau? Elbert Hubbard? R. C. O’Brien? Vladmir Bjornberg? Seth Wiggins? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I would love to have a specific citation for the following quotation. Here are two versions that I’ve seen many times:

1) The graveyards are full of indispensable men.
2) The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.

This is often attributed to Charles De Gaulle, and it would be a good fit with a mordant Gallic world view. Ralph Keyes’s “The Quote Verifier” offers a baker’s dozen of alternative attributions as far-flung as Winston Churchill and Rick Santorum. Keyes concluded with “Verdict: An old saying”. 1

Quote Investigator: The earliest version of this sentiment located by QI does not use the word indispensable, but the saying still communicates the same idea.

Elbert Hubbard was a prominent writer and publisher who also founded the Roycroft artisan community in New York. He collected adages and also formulated many of his own. In 1907 his publication “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” printed the following phrase as a free standing saying without attribution: 2

The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.

By definition an “indispensable” person is a person one could not do without. This adage has been attributed to Hubbard for many decades, and he still sometimes receives credit today.

In 1909 a newspaper in Oklahoma printed the phrase as part of a larger passage that carefully delineated its implications. Boldface has been added to excerpts.: 3

Young man, as you perambulate down the pathway of life toward an unavoidable bald head bordered with gray hairs it would be well to bear in mind that the cemeteries are full of men this world could not get along without, and note the fact that things move along after each funeral procession at about the same gait they went before. It makes no difference how important you may be, don’t get the idea under your hat that this world can’t get along without you —Abilene Reporter.

In 1919 a magazine called “The Recruiters’ Bulletin” published by the United States Marine Corps printed a version of the adage and credited the words to an Icelandic poet: 4

Several years ago, in these very columns, we quoted the words of the famous Icelandic poet, Vladmir Bjornberg, who wrote “The graveyards are filled with the men the world could not get on without.” We are going away and we’ll never be missed.

The ascription “Vladmir Bjornberg” may have been invented by the editor of “The Recruiters’ Bulletin”, Thomas G. Sterrett. See the comment presented after this article.

In July 1924 a member of the Irish Parliament named Mr. McGarry speaking during a question and answer period employed a version the expression with the word “indispensable” that was similar to modern instances though a specific cemetery was named: 5

They have acted in the belief, and they have carried on as if they believed that there was no alternative Government. They have forgotten that Glasnevin Cemetery is full of indispensable people.

Decades later in 1962 the French statesman Georges Clemenceau was credited with a version of the saying, and later the words were attributed to the French general Charles de Gaulle. Details for these citations are given further below.

Top-researcher Barry Popik has done great work tracing this maxim, and this article uses some of his pioneering results.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Graveyards Are Full of Indispensable Men


  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Pages 84-85 and 294-295, St Martin’s Griffin, New York.(Verified on paper)
  2. 1907 May, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Page 190, Volume 24, Number 6, Published by Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1909 February 4, The Evening News, Press Comment, Page 2, Column 3, [NArch Page 7], Ada, Oklahoma. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1919 May, The Recruiters’ Bulletin, Section: Editorial, Another Swan Song, Page 12, Volume 5, Number 4, United States Marine Corps, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1924 July 15, Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives), Irish Parliament, Leinster House, Dublin, Ceisteanna (Questions for the President), Speaking: Mr. McGarry. (Accessed on May 24, 2014) link link