Wear a Smile and Have Friends; Wear a Scowl and Have Wrinkles

George Eliot? Mary Ann Evans? F. O. Hamilton? Lillie Langtry? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage encourages sociability and the projection of happiness:

Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.

This statement has been credited to George Eliot, a popular Victorian era novelist whose real name was Mary Ann Evans. I am skeptical of this ascription because I have been unable to find a solid citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that George Eliot who died in 1880 spoke or wrote this quotation. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a 1938 article about friendship by F. O. Hamilton. The statement was adjacent to a remark attributed to George Eliot. Shortly afterward the two statements from the essay were quoted together, and both were mistakenly attributed to Eliot. The details are given further below.

The notion that smiling will help a person to gain friends has a long history. In 1871 a newspaper in Yorkville, South Carolina printed the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It is just as easy to smile as it is to frown. A smile will make you friends, and a frown will make you enemies.

The above statement partially matched the quotation, but it referred to frowning instead of scowling.

Continue reading Wear a Smile and Have Friends; Wear a Scowl and Have Wrinkles

Notes:

  1. 1871 January 12, Yorkville Enquirer, Children’s Department: How To Be a Man, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Yorkville, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

What Do We Live For, If It Is Not To Make Life Less Difficult To Each Other?

George Eliot? Mary Ann Evans? F. O. Hamilton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: George Eliot was a prominent English novelist of the Victorian era. The author’s real name was Mary Ann Evans. The following remark has been ascribed to her:

What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other?

I am having trouble locating this statement within her oeuvre. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The quotation can be found in Eliot’s novel “Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life”. Volume four of the work appeared in 1872. The correct phrasing differed from the version specified by the questioner. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Mr Lydgate would understand that if his friends hear a calumny about him their first wish must be to justify him. What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.”

The quotation included the additional words “it is”. The word “life” occurred instead of “world”, and the preposition “to” occurred instead of “for”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What Do We Live For, If It Is Not To Make Life Less Difficult To Each Other?

Notes:

  1. 1872, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot, Volume IV, Book VIII: Sunset and Sunrise, Chapter 72, Quote Page 180 and 181, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh. (Google Books Full View) link

It’s Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been

George Eliot? Adelaide Anne Procter? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite quotation about untapped potential and enduring spirit is attributed to the prominent Victorian novelist George Eliot:

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

This popular saying has been printed on refrigerator magnets, posters, shirts, and key chains. But I have never seen the source specified. Are these really the words of George Eliot?

Quote Investigator: George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans who died in 1880. Researchers have been unable to locate this quotation in her books or letters. Currently, the ascription to Eliot has no substantive support.

The earliest evidence of an exact match known to QI appeared in “Literary News: A Monthly Journal of Current Literature” in 1881. The editor held a contest to gather the best quotations from Eliot’s oeuvre. The following was the announcement printed in the April 1881 issue: 1

Prize Question No 31.
Subject: Gems from George Eliot.

Quote the most striking passage known to you from George Eliot’s writings; not to exceed thirty words. Answers due May 20.

In June 1881 the excerpts submitted by readers were printed in the periodical; however, they were not fully vetted for accuracy. Also, some entries did not specify the originating text. For example, these four items were included in the list. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

We present herewith the selections made by our readers from the writings of George Eliot. Excluding all that exceed the prescribed limit of thirty words, we present herewith seventy-one selections. …

21. “Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds.”—Adam Bede

22. “A woman’s choice generally means taking the only man she can get.” —Middlemarch.

23. “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

24. “I’m not denyin’ the women are foolish; God Almighty made ’em to match the men.”

Statement 21 was correct though truncated. Statement 22 was slightly inaccurate; the novel used the word “usually” instead of “generally”. Statement 23 has never been found in the works of Eliot. Statement 24 did not list a source, but it did appear in “Adam Bede”.

This important citation with the incorrect attribution of the target quotation was identified by Professor Leah Price. After 1881 quotation number 23 started to appear in a variety of publications credited to George Eliot, and “Literary News” may have been the prime locus for its dissemination.

A very interesting partial match for the saying appeared earlier in a poem in 1859. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been

Notes:

  1. 1881 April, Literary News Prize Question No. 31: Subject: Gems from George Eliot, Quote Page 113, Publisher and Editor: F. Leypoldt, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1881 June, Literary News Prize Question No. 31: Subject: Gems from George Eliot, (Quote Number 23), Start Page 176, Quote Page 177, Publisher and Editor: F. Leypoldt, New York. (Google Books Full View) link