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

When One Door Closes Another Opens, But Often We Look So Long Upon the Closed Door That We Do Not See the Open Door

Helen Keller? Alexander Graham Bell? Johann P. F. Richter? Miguel de Cervantes? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A venerable adage emphasizes the desirability of retaining a positive outlook and flexibility. Plans always encounter difficulties, and a successful person must be able to adapt. Here are two instances of a proverb that employs doorways figuratively:

  • When one door shuts, another opens.
  • When one door closes, another opens.

An addendum to this saying highlights the danger of inaction. Here are two versions:

  • We should not look so intently and so sorrowfully upon the closed door that we do not see the newly open door.
  • We should not look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we miss the door that has opened.

Sayings in this family have been ascribed to blind social activist Helen Keller, telephone pioneer Alexander Graham Bell, German Romantic writer Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, and eminent Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The “Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs” has an entry for the six-word adage listing the following two early citations. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

When one door shuts, another opens

1586 D. ROWLAND tr. Lazarillo D3V This proverbe was fulfild, when one doore is shut the other openeth.

1620 T. SHELTON tr. Cervantes’ Don Quixote iii. vii. Where one door is shut another is opened.

The first citation refers to an English translation of an influential picaresque Spanish novella titled “La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades” with an anonymous author published by 1554. The second citation refers to an English translation of the famous comic novel “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes dated 1605 for the first part and 1615 for the second part in Spanish.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When One Door Closes Another Opens, But Often We Look So Long Upon the Closed Door That We Do Not See the Open Door

Notes:

  1. 2015, Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, (Sixth edition), Edited by Jennifer Speake, Entry: “When ONE door shuts, another opens”, Publisher: Oxford University Press. (Accessed via Oxford Reference Online)

The More Sand Has Escaped from the Hourglass of Our Life, the Clearer We Should See Through It

Niccolò Machiavelli? Jean-Paul Sartre? Jean Paul? Johann Paul Friedrich Richter?

Dear Quote Investigator: A student would like to use the following quotation about perspicacity gained through experience in a yearbook, but she has been unable to determine an appropriate ascription:

The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.

These words are often attributed to Niccolò Machiavelli or Jean-Paul Sartre which I think is an eccentric juxtaposition. I was unable to find precise citations for either of these individuals. Would you help resolve this question?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a German novel titled “Hesperus oder 45 Hundsposttage, Eine Biographie” published in 1795 by Johann Paul Friedrich Richter who used the pen name Jean Paul. “The Oxford Companion to German Literature” described the work as follows: 1

The eccentric sub-title refers to the chapters, which are designated Hundsposttage, and are supposed to have been brought to the author’s friend by a Pomeranian dog. Written in Jean Paul’s characteristic whimsical style, the book has a complex and absurd plot.

The quotation about a figurative hourglass referred to a single individual named Emanuel in the novel. The statement was later generalized to encompass all people. Here is the relevant passage in German followed by one possible English translation: 2

Emanuel sah ruhig wie eine ewige Sonne, auf den Herbst seines Körpers herab; ja je mehr Sand aus seiner Lebens-Sanduhr herausgefallen war, desto heller sah er durch das leere Glas hindurch.

Emanuel looked peacefully as an eternal sundown upon the autumn of his body; indeed the more sand had fallen out of his life-hourglass, the clearer he saw through the empty glass.

In 1837 a weekly journal called “The New-York Mirror” printed an article titled “Original Translations: Scraps from Jean Paul” which included a version of the quotation together with other adages from Richter. Here are three examples: 3

Our sorrows are like thunder clouds, which seem black in the distance, but grow lighter as they approach.

The more sand has escaped from the hour-glass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.

The moon is a light-house on the shore of the other world.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The More Sand Has Escaped from the Hourglass of Our Life, the Clearer We Should See Through It

Notes:

  1. Website: Answers.com, Reference Source: The Oxford Companion to German Literature from Oxford University Press, Category: Literature & Language: German Literature Companion, Topic: Hesperus oder 45 Hundsposttage, eine Biographie: Novel by Jean Paul, Text licensed by Answers Corporation. (Accessed answers.com on December 14, 2013) link
  2. 1795, Hesperus; oder, 45 hundsposttage: Eine Biographie by Jean Paul (Johann Paul Friedrich Richter), Quote Page 345, Karl Matzdorffs Buchhandlung, Berlin, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1837 May 13, The New-York Mirror: A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Volume XIV, Number 46, Original Translations: Scraps from Jean Paul, Quote Page 362, Column 2, New York. (Google Books full view)(Please note that the metadata supplied for this match by Google Books is inaccurate; the data in this citation is based on the page images) link

When I Wrote It, Only God and I Knew the Meaning; Now God Alone Knows

Robert Browning? Johann Paul Friedrich Richter? Jakob Böhme? Johann Gottlieb Fichte? Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel? Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular play “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” dramatized the compelling love story between the poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. The work was first performed in the 1930s and was later made into two films and a television series. I recall one wonderfully humorous scene during which Barrett told Browning that she was confused by a section of one of his poems, and she asked for an explanation:

ELIZABETH BARRETT: Well?

ROBERT BROWNING: Well, Miss Barrett, when that passage was written only God and Robert Browning understood it. Now, only God understands it.

Recently, I discovered that this quip has also been ascribed to the celebrated philosopher Hegel. No doubt “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” was fictionalized, but I wonder if Browning did make a remark of this type. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This comical anecdote has an extensive history with similar comments attributed to Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, Jakob Böhme, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and others. Well-known writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and G. K. Chesterton were amused enough to record the remark.

The earliest instance known to QI appeared in a London newspaper in 1826 and featured the German writer Johann Paul Friedrich Richter who died shortly before in 1825. The anecdote used the alternate appellation John Paul Richter. The capitalization is in the original text. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

The works of JOHN PAUL RICHTER are almost uninteresting to any but Germans, and even to some of them. A worthy German, just before RICHTER’S death, edited a complete edition of his works, in which one particular passage puzzled him. Determined to have it explained at the source, he went to JOHN PAUL himself, and asked him what was the meaning of the mysterious passage. JOHN PAUL’S reply was very German and characteristic. “My good friend,” said he, “when I wrote that passage, God and I knew what it meant. It is possible that God knows it still; but as for me, I have totally forgotten.”

This story can be expressed in many ways and instances before 1826 may exist. Early examples of the anecdote typically feature German intellectuals, and the tale may have appeared previously in a German language book or periodical.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When I Wrote It, Only God and I Knew the Meaning; Now God Alone Knows

Notes:

  1. 1826 August 9, The Morning Chronicle, Issue 17755, The Mirror of Fashion, Quote Page 3, Column 1, London, England. (19th Century British Newspapers: Gale)