Henry James? Fred Rogers? Billy James? Leon Edel? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent American literary figure Henry James apparently crafted an expression with a three-fold repetition of the phrase “be kind”. The influential children’s television personality Fred Rogers has been credited with a similar statement. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: A landmark biography of Henry James provides substantive evidence that he did construct this saying. There is also evidence that Fred Rogers employed an instance of this remark; however, Rogers credited James. See the 2003 citation given further below for details.
Henry James died in 1916, and in 1953 Leon Edel released the first installment of his monumental five volume biography of James. The final book titled “Henry James: The Master: 1901-1916” appeared in 1972. One chapter discussed Billy James who was the second son of William James; thus, Billy was the nephew of Henry James. Billy came to England to visit with his uncle in October 1902. Years later Billy spoke directly to Leon Edel while he was composing the biography; hence, the following passage about the visit was probably based on the testimony Billy gave to Edel. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
His vision was of a short, rotund man, with a quick sensibility and a boundless capacity for affection. What he carried away from his elderly uncle was the memory of hearing him say, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1978 (1972 Copyright), Henry James: The Master: 1901-1916 by Leon Edel, Book Two: The Beast in the Jungle, Chapter: Billy, Quote Page 124, A Discus Book: Avon Books, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩