Category Archives: Nelson Mandela

Resentment is Like Taking Poison and Waiting for the Other Person To Die

Carrie Fisher? Nelson Mandel? Malachy McCourt? Emmet Fox? Bert Ghezzi? Susan Cheever? Alan Brandt? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A vivid simile depicts the self-destructiveness of a common bitter emotion. Here are two versions:

  1. Resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.
  2. Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill someone else.

This figurative language has been credited to the actress Carrie Fisher, the statesman Nelson Mandela, the author Malachy McCourt, and others. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1980 book “The Angry Christian” by Bert Ghezzi. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Resentment is like a poison we carry around inside us with the hope that when we get the chance we can deposit it where it will harm another who has injured us. The fact is that we carry this poison at extreme risk to ourselves.

This simile is not identical, but it shares key elements with the target saying. QI believes that this figurative framework evolved over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1980, The Angry Christian by Bert Ghezzi, Quote Page 99, Servant, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Verified with scans; thanks to the B.L. Fisher Library of the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky)

It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done

Nelson Mandela? Pliny the Elder? Daniel Wilson? Elbert Anderson Young? Robert H. Goddard? Robert Heinlein? Norton Juster? Paul Eldridge?

impossible14Dear Quote Investigator: Politicians, journalists, pundits, and self-help authors are fond of the following inspirational expression:

It always seems impossible, until it is done.

The words are usually attributed to the activist, statesman, and Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela, but I have not been able to find a good citation. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found this statement in a book or speech by Nelson Mandela. The earliest attribution to Mandela located by QI appeared in an Australian newspaper in 2001. Hence, the saying was linked to him for at least a dozen years before his death in 2013. Details for this citation are given further below.

Sometimes an event or achievement appears to be impossible, and only the actual occurrence of the event is enough to dispel the misconception. A statement that matched this notion was included in the encyclopedic work called “Naturalis Historia” (Natural History) which was written by Pliny the Elder who died in AD 79. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Indeed what is there that does not appear marvellous, when it comes to our knowledge for the first time? How many things, too, are looked upon as quite impossible, until they have been actually effected?

In 1862 the book “Prehistoric Man: Researches into the Origin of Civilisation in the Old and the New World” was published, and the author, Professor Daniel Wilson, commented on the remarkable insights available through the study of the geological record. Information could be reconstructed about the nature of Earth before the appearance of mankind. The author employed the saying in the form of a rhetorical question: 3

Yet all the while, the geological record lay there open before him, awaiting God’s appointed time. What so inconceivable as the recovery of the world’s history prior to man’s creation; but, indeed is not everything impossible until it is done? and the history of man himself, though so much less inconceivable, also an impossibility until it has been accomplished?

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1855, The Natural History of Pliny, Author: Pliny the Elder, Translator: John Bostock and H. T. Riley (Late Scholar of Clare Hall, Cambridge), Volume 2, Book 7, Chapter 1: Man, Quote Page 121, Published by Henry G. Bohn, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Website: Perseus Digital Library, Editor-in-Chief of Digital Library: Gregory R. Crane of Tufts University, Book Title: Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book Authors: John Bostock and H.T. Riley, Section: Book VII, Man, His Birth, His Organization, and the Invention of the Arts, Chapter 1: Man, Website description: “Perseus is a practical experiment in which we explore possibilities and challenges of digital collections in a networked world”. (Accessed on January 5, 2016) link
  3. 1862, Prehistoric Man: Researches into the Origin of Civilisation in the Old and the New World by Daniel Wilson (Professor of History and English Literature in University College, Toronto), Volume 1 of 2, Chapter 4: The Primeval Transition: Instinct, Quote Page 87, Published by Macmillan and Company, Cambridge and London. (Google Books Full View) link

Our Greatest Glory Is Not in Never Falling, But in Rising Every Time We Fall

Confucius? Nelson Mandela? Vince Lombardi? Oliver Goldsmith? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Christian Nestell Bovee?

goldsmith08Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage about motivation and perseverance has been attributed to an oddly eclectic group: Chinese philosopher Confucius, football coach Vince Lombardi, activist politician Nelson Mandela, Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here are four versions. The fourth uses “failing” instead of “falling”:

1) The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

2) The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.

3) Our greatest strength lies not in never having fallen, but in rising every time we fall.

4) Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.

I have no idea if any of these ascriptions is correct because I have not seen any documentation listing a source. Would you please help me with this frustrating situation?

Quote Investigator: In 1760 and1761 a series of letters written by an imaginary Chinese traveler based in London named Lien Chi Altangi was published in “The Public Ledger” magazine of London. The actual author was an Irishman named Oliver Goldsmith who used the perspective of an outsider from China to comment on and satirize the life and manners of the city. Goldsmith later achieved fame with his novel “The Vicar of Wakefield” and his play “She Stoops to Conquer”. 1

The letters were collected and released in book form in 1762 under the title “The Citizen of the World: or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher, Residing in London, to His Friends in the East “. The seventh letter from Lien Chi Altangi included an instance of the adage: 2

Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

A different phrasing of the maxim was included in the twenty-second letter:

True magnanimity consists not in NEVER falling, but in RISING every time we fall.

QI has located no substantive evidence that the ancient sage Confucius constructed this saying in either form, and QI believes that Goldsmith crafted it. However, the context of these simulated exotic letters led many readers to believe that the author was relaying aphorisms from China. Indeed, the introductory note for the seventh letter specifically referred to Confucius:

The Editor thinks proper to acquaint the reader, that the greatest part of the following letter seems to him to be little more than a rhapsody of sentences borrowed from Confucius, the Chinese philosopher.

By 1801 an edition of “The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith” included the letters that were originally ascribed to Lien Chi Altangi. Hence, the words were properly credited to Goldsmith. 3

Yet, by 1831 the saying had been reassigned to Confucius. In later years, the phrasing evolved, and the adage was attributed to a variety of individuals including Ralph Waldo Emerson. In modern times, there is evidence that both Vince Lombardi and Nelson Mandela used the expression. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature (Third edition), Entry: The Citizen of the World, Oxford University Press, Oxford Reference Online. (Accessed May 26, 2014)
  2. 1762, The Citizen of the World: or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher, Residing in London, to His Friends in the East by Lien Chi Altangi (Oliver Goldsmith), Letter VII and Letter XXII, Printed for George and Alex. Ewing, Dublin, Ireland. (ECCO TCP: Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Text Creation Partnership) link link link
  3. 1801, The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, Volume 3 of 4, Letter VII, Quote Page 21, Letter XXI, Quote Page 75, Printed for J. Johnson, G. and J. Robinson, W. J. and J. Richardson, et al, Printed by Nichols and Son, Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link