No Truth So Sublime But It May Be Trivial Tomorrow in the Light of New Thoughts

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Tryon Edwards? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: During one’s lifetime one may discover a truth that appears deep and beautiful. Yet, one must be willing to continuously grow and change. That supposed truth may later seem trivial or misleading. Personal development demands regular reevaluations.

The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson made a similar point about a sublime truth metamorphosing into a trivial platitude in the light of new knowledge. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson published a collection of essays which included a piece about “Circles”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

In nature every moment is new; the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energising spirit. No love can be bound by oath or covenant, to secure it against a higher love. No truth so sublime but it may be trivial to-morrow in the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled: only as far as they are unsettled, is there any hope for them.

Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess to-day the mood, the pleasure, the power of to-morrow, when we are building up our being.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Truth So Sublime But It May Be Trivial Tomorrow in the Light of New Thoughts

Notes:

  1. 1841, Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay X: Circles, Start Page 301, Quote Page 321 and 322, James Fraser, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant

Louis Brandeis? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Robert Walter? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of sayings about the effectiveness of light for the destruction of noxious infectious agents. This family also includes metaphorical instances in which corrupt behavior is revealed and blocked via publicity. Here are some examples:

  • Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
  • Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
  • The best moral disinfectant is publicity.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1860 the well-known transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson published a collection of essays on “The Conduct of Life” which included a piece titled “Worship”. Emerson employed an analogy equating the protective illumination provided by gas-light and the protective information provided by publicity. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

As gas-light is found to be the best nocturnal police, so the universe protects itself by pitiless publicity.

In 1879 the journal “The Laws of Health” edited by Robert Walter published a short article without a byline about “Disinfectants” which included the following excerpt: 2

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Malaria, for instance, which is one of the most difficult things to contend against, is dissipated when the sun shines, and exerts its pernicious influence at night.

The above statement was non-metaphorical. Many years later in 1913 lawyer Louis Brandeis penned a metaphorical instance that has become popular. The fame of Brandeis grew when he joined the Supreme Court of the United States in 1916. See further below for details of the 1913 citation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant

Notes:

  1. 1860, The Conduct of Life by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chapter 6: Worship, Start Page 175, Quote Page 197, Smith, Elder and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1879 January, The Laws of Health, Disinfectants, Quote Page 70, Column 3, Published by Robert Walter of Wernersville near Reading, Pennsylvania. (HathiTrust Full View) link

A Hero Is No Braver Than an Ordinary Person, But the Hero Is Brave Five Minutes Longer

Marcel Proust? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Lord Palmerston? Duke of Wellington? Japanese Proverb? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The difference between demonstrating bravery and cowardice can be surprisingly small. Perseverance under extreme duress can lead to success. Here are three instances from a family of sayings about heroism and tenacity:

  1. A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.
  2. Victory is on the side that can hold out a quarter of an hour longer than the other.
  3. The conquering soldier is not braver than the soldiers of other countries, but he is brave ten minutes longer.

This saying has been attributed to the transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and the British military leader Arthur Wellesley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the May 1878 issue of a London periodical called the “Temple Bar”. An unnamed author penned a statement above bravery which was prefaced with a remark about success in the sport of fencing. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

If you can hit a man two inches farther than he can hit you, you are, in the truthful language of the “Fancy,” his better man physically. ‘Tis the same morally: all men are brave, but if one man is brave two minutes longer than the other he has a decided advantage.

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Continue reading A Hero Is No Braver Than an Ordinary Person, But the Hero Is Brave Five Minutes Longer

Notes:

  1. 1878 May, Temple Bar: A London Magazine, Volume 53, Sticks, Stocks and Stones: Arma Virumque Cano, Start Page 50, Quote Page 54, Richard Bentley & Son, London.(Google Books Full View) link

Self-Trust Is the First Secret of Success

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

Portrait of EmersonDear Quote Investigator: Anxiety and self-doubt can sabotage one’s attempts to achieve success. The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said: Self-trust is the first secret of success.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1870 Ralph Waldo Emerson collected a set of his essays under the title “Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters”. The essay on “Success” contained the following advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Self-trust is the first secret of success, the belief that, if you are here, the authorities of the universe put you here, and for cause, or with some task strictly appointed you in your constitution, and so long as you work at that you are well and successful. It by no means consists in rushing prematurely to a showy feat that shall catch the eye and satisfy spectators. It is enough if you work in the right direction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Self-Trust Is the First Secret of Success

Notes:

  1. 1871 (1870 Copyright), Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chapter: Success, Start Page 251, Quote Page 261 and 262, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Finish Every Day and Be Done With It. . . . Some Blunders and Absurdities No Doubt Crept In; Forget Them As Soon As You Can

Ralph Waldo Emerson? James Elliot Cabot? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Each day should be greeted with our optimism and aspirations. We should forgive ourselves for yesterday’s missteps. The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson apparently made this point in a passage that begins with one of the following two phrases:

  • Finish every day and be done with it.
  • Finish each day and be done with it.

Would you please help me to determine precisely what Emerson said and where he said it?

Quote Investigator: After the death of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1882 his letters and notebooks were carefully preserved. Decades later, Columbia University Press released a six volume collection of his letters. The quotation appeared in volume four which was published in 1939 under the editorship of Ralph L. Rusk.

On April 8, 1854 Emerson sent a missive to his daughter Ellen with guidance about maintaining a positive attitude toward each new day. The informally punctuated letter included run-on sentences. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

You must finish a term & finish every day, & be done with it. For manners, & for wise living, it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as fast as you can tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well & serenely, & with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good & fair. It is too dear with its hopes & invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Finish Every Day and Be Done With It. . . . Some Blunders and Absurdities No Doubt Crept In; Forget Them As Soon As You Can

Notes:

  1. 1939, The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson in Six Volumes, Edited by Ralph L. Rusk (Professor of English at Columbia University), Volume 4, Letter from: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letter to: Ellen Emerson, Letter date: April 8, 1854, Letter location: Concord, Start Page 438, Quote Page 439, Columbia University Press, New York. (Google Books Preview)

Fear Defeats More People than Any Other One Thing in the World

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Elbert Hubbard? Napoleon Bonaparte? Dale Carnegie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Self-help books encourage people to act with confidence and assurance because apprehension can block progress. I once read the following motivational statement:

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.

These words were attributed to the famous transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. I am skeptical of the ascription because I have not been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This saying has been ascribed to Emerson, Elbert Hubbard, Napoleon Bonaparte and others. QI has not yet located substantive evidence identifying the creator; he or she remains anonymous. This article presents a snapshot of current research.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for “The Emma Dunn Method of Adult Education” printed in the “Los Angeles Times” in 1936. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

YOU WILL CONQUER FEAR
“Fear defeats more men than any other one thing in the world,” says Elbert Hubbard.

Elbert Hubbard founded a New York artisan community called Roycroft. He was known for creating, collecting, and popularizing adages. However, he died in 1915, and QI has not yet found any direct evidence during his lifetime that he authored this saying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fear Defeats More People than Any Other One Thing in the World

Notes:

  1. 1936 June 3, Los Angeles Times, No High Pressure Salesmanship (Advertisement for The Emma Dunn Method of Adult Education, Hollywood, California), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)

But In Analysing History Do Not Be Too Profound, for Often the Causes Are Quite Superficial

Creator: Ralph Waldo Emerson, prominent American essayist and transcendentalist philosopher

Context: In 1836 when Emerson was 33 years old he wrote in his journal about bloody events in Spain and France. Emphasis added to excerpt: 1

But in analysing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial. In the present state of Spain, in the old state of France, and in general in the reigns of Terror, everywhere, there is no Idea, no Principle. It is all scrambling for bread and money. It is the absence of all profound views; of all principle. It is the triumph of the senses, a total skepticism. They are all down on the floor striving each to pick the pocket, or cut the throat that he may pick the pocket, of the other, and the farthest view the miscreants have is the next tavern or brothel where their plunder may glut them.

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Elisa Gabbert and Brent Gohde who via twitter wondered about the authenticity of this quotation and requested a citation.

Notes:

  1. 1910, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations, Edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, 1836-1838, Volume 4, Journal Date: Nov. 29, 1836, Age of Ralph Waldo Emerson: 33, Quote Page 160 and 161, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (archive.org) link

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do

Quotation: Always do what you are afraid to do.

Popularizer: Ralph Waldo Emerson (He did not create the adage.)

Context: In 1841 Emerson published the essay “Heroism”, and he recommended a simple maxim to readers for overcoming trepidation. Some fears are justified, and the guidance does not encourage foolish or self-destructive actions. Emerson disclaimed credit for the saying with the phrase “I once heard”: 1

Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, “Always do what you are afraid to do.”

Related Article 01: Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You
Related Article 02: Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Notes:

  1. 1841, Essays by R. W. Emerson (Ralph Waldo Emerson), Essay VIII: Heroism, Start Page 247, Quote Page 262, James Fraser, London. (Google Books full view) link

As a Cure for Worrying, Work Is Better Than Whisky

Thomas Edison? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Using alcohol to provide solace when experiencing apprehension is often unwise. The famous inventor and businessman Thomas Edison preferred hard work and reportedly said:

As a cure for worrying, work is better than whisky

Oddly, the same saying has been attributed to the noteworthy thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. Can you resolve this ambiguity?

Quote Investigator: The ascription to Thomas Edison is well-supported, but the linkage to Ralph Waldo Emerson is unsupported.

The March 1929 issue of “Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan” magazine published an interview with Thomas Edison that included his commentary about the difficulties and uncertainties he faced while building his business empire. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“For a good many years I worried about my pay-roll; didn’t always know how I was going to meet it. My trouble has been that I have always had too much ambition and tried to do things that were sometimes financially too big for me. If I had not had so much ambition and had not tried to do so many things I probably would have been happier, but less useful.

“But I have always found, when I was worrying, that the best thing to do was to put my mind upon something, work hard and forget what was troubling me. As a cure for worrying, work is better than whisky. Much better.

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Continue reading As a Cure for Worrying, Work Is Better Than Whisky

Notes:

  1. 1929 March, Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan, Edison: In an Unusual Talk with Allan L. Benson, Start Page 83, Quote Page 83, Column 2, International Magazine Company, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Interlibrary Loan system)

Sometimes You Eat the Bear, and Sometimes the Bear Eats You

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Sam Elliott? Ethan Coen? Joel Coen? Bertrand W. Sinclair? Carl O. Sauer? Roger Penske? Jim Croce? Preacher Roe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of ursine sayings about the topsy-turvy vicissitudes of life:

1) Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.
2) Sometimes you hunt the bear, and sometimes the bear hunts you.
3) Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.

A version of the first statement was spoken during the 1998 movie “The Big Lebowski” whose screenplay was written by the Coen brothers. Would you please examine the provenance of this family?

Dear Quote Investigator: An interesting precursor was included in an essay titled “Farming” published in an 1870 collection by the influential transcendentalist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. The early human diet included foods derived from plants and animals, but hunting megafauna was a dangerous endeavor. Emerson described a beleaguered primal figure. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He is a poor creature; he scratches with a sharp stick, lives in a cave or a hutch, has no road but the trail of the moose or bear; he lives on their flesh when he can kill one, on roots and fruits when he cannot. He falls, and is lame; he coughs, he has a stitch in his side, he has a fever and chills: when he is hungry, he cannot always kill and eat a bear;—chances of war,—sometimes the bear eats him.

Emerson’s essays were reprinted in many editions during the ensuing decades, and QI believes the passage above probably facilitated the emergence of the modern adage.

Another precursor appeared in an item printed in an Alexandria, Louisiana newspaper in 1894. The two-fold contingent nature of encounters with bears was highlighted: 2

The farmers of this community are about done gathering their crops, and many of them are now in the woods gathering up their hogs. Some of them so engaged a few days ago ran across a bear in Calcasieu swamp so the first question asked now when they return from the swamp is, “Did you get the bear, or did the bear get you?”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sometimes You Eat the Bear, and Sometimes the Bear Eats You

Notes:

  1. 1870, Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay: Farming, Start Page 115, Quote Page 128, Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1894 December 15, The Weekly Town Talk, Shady Grove Items, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Alexandria, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)