I Have Forgotten the Books I Have Read and the Dinners I Have Eaten, But They Both Helped Make Me

Ralph Waldo Emerson? G. B. Emerson? Charles Gordon Ames? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The well-known lecturer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson has been credited with a provocative remark about reading and memory:

I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

I have not found a convincing citation for Emerson. Are these really his words?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found convincing evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke or wrote this statement. He died in 1882, and the earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine” issue of June 1896 within an article about a Harvard Divinity graduate and prominent Unitarian clergyman named William Henry Furness who had died earlier in the year. The piece reviewed the life and accomplishments of Furness who was born in 1802 and attended Harvard in the early 1820s. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Whatever impressions were made on the student’s mind by the courses of instruction, hardly a trace of them appears in his later authorship. Yet this may only imply thorough assimilation; for he can never be classed among those who have gone forth from classic halls to afflict mankind with the bad breath of ill-digested scholarship. “I have forgotten the books I have read,” said Emerson; “and so I have the dinners I have eaten; but they both helped make me.”

The paragraph preceding the passage above mentioned that G. B. Emerson was a tutor at Harvard while Furness was a student. Hence, it was conceivable that the ambiguous term “Emerson” referred G. B. Emerson instead of the better known Ralph Waldo Emerson (R. W. E.). On the other hand, the author of the article, Charles Gordon Ames, used “Emerson” to refer to R. W. E. in a later section. In addition, a quotation from R. W. E. would fit because Furness and he maintained a lifelong friendship that extended back to their days at Boston Latin School.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Have Forgotten the Books I Have Read and the Dinners I Have Eaten, But They Both Helped Make Me

Notes:

  1. 1896 June, The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, Volume 4, Number 16, William Henry Furness by Charles Gordon Ames, (Profile of Harvard graduate William Henry Furness who died January 30, 1896), Start Page 545, Quote Page 546, Published by The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine Association, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Mark Twain? Eleanor Roosevelt? Mary Schmich? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain said something about doing at least one thing each day that you should do despite the fact that it makes you feel uncomfortable. I do not remember precisely how the expression was phrased. Here are two pertinent statements:

Do something every day that you don’t want to do.
Do one thing every day that scares you.

Would you please determine what Twain said?

Quote Investigator: In 1897 Mark Twain released a travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and the fifty-eighth chapter presented the following epigraph. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. So, Twain was the actual creator of the advice given above.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Notes:

  1. 1897, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), (Chapter 58 Epigraph), Quote Page 549, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut; Also Doubleday & McClure Company, New York. (Internet Archive) link

The Man Who Tries Methods, Ignoring Principles, Is Sure to Have Trouble

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Harrison Emmerson? Harrington Emerson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is always possible to attempt to solve a problem by clumsily trying a variety of methods, but it is better to select an appropriate technique based on principled understanding. The following statement has been attributed to the famous philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The man who grasps principles can successfully handle his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

Oddly, I have not found any instances of this expression in the 1800s. Yet, Emerson died in 1882. Would you please determine the origin of this statement?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson crafted the words above. QI believes the passage evolved from statements made by Harrington Emerson who was a prominent management consultant and efficiency expert during the early decades of the 1900s.

The misattribution occurred because of the shared last name of “Emerson”. A version of the quotation was labeled with the single name “Emerson”, and some readers assumed that the creator was Ralph Waldo Emerson instead of Harrington Emerson. Indeed, the fame of the transcendentalist thinker has long eclipsed that of the efficiency engineer, and the error has been propagated via numerous periodicals and books over the decades.

The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in the July 1911 issue of a trade journal called “The Clothier and Furnisher” which reported on the Annual Convention of the National Association of Clothiers. A speaker at the gathering was described as “one of the most celebrated efficiency engineers in the world”, and his words were recounted as follows. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

Curiously, the name given for the speaker was “Harrison Emmerson”. However, QI believes that the trade journal made a small mistake, and the speaker was actually named Harrington Emerson. The identity was made clear by the content of the speech which presented a set of principles that precisely corresponded to the ones recorded in the book “The Twelve Principles of Efficiency” by Harrington Emerson. 2

The passage above did not exactly match the statement given by the questioner; however, QI believes that the modern phrasing was derived from the 1911 text via the commonplace process of imperfect transmission over time.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Man Who Tries Methods, Ignoring Principles, Is Sure to Have Trouble

Notes:

  1. 1911 July, The Clothier and Furnisher, Volume 78, Number 6, The Convention: Fifteenth Annual Convention of the National Association of Clothiers, Held June 5 and 6, 1911, Start Page 67, Quote Page 86, Published by George N. Lowrey Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1912 (Copyright 1911), The Twelve Principles of Efficiency by Harrington Emerson, Published by The Engineering Magazine, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

If You Build a Better Mousetrap the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Elbert Hubbard? Sarah S. B. Yule? John R. Paxton? Orison Swett Marden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A remarkably popular adage about innovation highlights mousetraps and celebrity:

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

The origin of this saying was complex, and the topic has been contentious. Historically, the following people have been linked to the phrase: philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, aphorist Elbert Hubbard, clergyman John R. Paxton, and quotation collector Sarah S. B. Yule. Would you please examine this subject?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strongly matching statement located by QI was published in “The Atlanta Constitution” of Atlanta, Georgia on May 11, 1882 in a section called “Current Comment”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The Value of Good Work,
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.

Emerson died on April 27, 1882, so the above passage was ascribed to him shortly after his death. In the following days, months, and years the quotation appeared in a wide variety of periodicals and books together with the acknowledgement. For example, on May 15, 1882 the text along with Emerson’s name was printed in “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio. 2 On May 19, 1882 it was reprinted in the “The Decatur Daily Republican” of Decatur, Illinois. 3

Minor alterations in the text occurred as the quotation was widely replicated. The term mousetrap was sometimes presented as two words: “mouse trap” and sometimes hyphenated: “mouse-trap”. In modern times, the term often appears as a single unhyphenated word: “mousetrap”. The word “neighbors” was sometimes given in the singular form.

The saying was employed as a filler item in newspapers, and it also appeared in columns containing miscellaneous short news items and sayings. The specific circumstances when Emerson spoke or wrote the statement were not specified.

Over the decades the phrasing has evolved. For example, by 1901 a version with “build a better mouse-trap” instead of “make a better mouse-trap” was circulating.

An exact match for the passage above has never been found in the published writings or personal journals of Emerson. However, a solid thematic match was written in his journal dated 1855 in a section about “Common Fame”. A mousetrap was not mentioned; instead, other goods and services were specified: 4

Common Fame. I trust a good deal to common fame, as we all must. If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.

Emerson was a popular speaker who delivered numerous public lectures over a period of decades. He used his journals as source material for his speeches, but the phrasing employed in the notebooks and speeches was variable. QI believes Emerson probably did voice the passage with “mouse trap” during a speech.

Indeed, a woman named Sarah S. B. Yule stated that she heard one of Emerson’s public addresses and copied the “mouse trap” statement into a notebook. In 1889 she placed the remark into a published compilation of quotations and adages titled “Borrowings”. Detailed information is given further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Build a Better Mousetrap the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door

Notes:

  1. 1882 May 11, Atlanta Constitution, Current Comment: The Value of Good Work: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest)
  2. 1882 May 15, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Personal, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1882 May 19, Decatur Daily Republican, Tea-Table Talk, Quote Page 2, Column 2, Decatur, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1912, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations, Edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, 1849-1855, Volume 8, Year Specified for Journal Entry: 1855, Quote Page 528, Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

Unless You Try To Do Something Beyond What You Have Already Mastered, You Will Never Grow

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Ronald E. Osborn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage about personal growth has appeared in many self-help and motivational texts:

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.

Often the words are attributed to the well-known transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I have been unable to determine the source, and I am skeptical. Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Emerson died in 1882, and the statement has been attributed to him only in recent decades. No citation has been provided, and the linkage is not substantive.

The earliest evidence located by QI was published in “Forbes” magazine in March 1945. A long-standing feature of the periodical was a page titled “Thoughts on the Business of Life” which displayed miscellaneous quotations and aphorisms. A short passage of three sentences containing the maxim was credited to someone named Ronald E. Osborn. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

Undertake something that is difficult; it will do you good. Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.
—Ronald E. Osborn.

“Forbes” did not state where it had collected this quotation. News reports in the following years referred to speeches delivered by a professor of church history at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana named Ronald E. Osborn, and it was possible that this religious orator and teacher was the quotesmith. 2 However, this identification is conjectural because of the existence of several individuals named Ronald E. Osborn.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Unless You Try To Do Something Beyond What You Have Already Mastered, You Will Never Grow

Notes:

  1. 1945 March 15, Forbes, Thoughts on the Business of Life, Quote Page 46, Column 1, Forbes Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1951 June 27, The Oregon Statesman, Over 1,000 Delegates at Turner for Christian Church Conclave (Statesman News Service), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Salem, Oregon. (Newspapers_com)

A Blind Man in a Dark Room Looking for a Black Cat That Is Not There

Charles Darwin? Lord Bowen? Confucius? E. R. Pearce? William James? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A vivid and comical metaphor has been applied to professions that require abstract and recondite reasoning abilities:

A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black hat which isn’t there.

A metaphysician is a man who goes into a dark cellar at midnight without a light looking for a black cat that is not there.

The philosopher is likened to a ‘blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that is not there.’

The first statement has been attributed to the famous scientist Charles Darwin while the second has been linked to the notable English judge Lord Bowen, and the third has been credited to the renowned philosopher William James. I have been unable to find solid citations. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: This metaphorical framework evolved during a multi-decade period. The earliest pertinent evidence located by QI occurred in a Missouri newspaper in 1846. No professions were mentioned; instead, an elaborate scenario was described to illustrate the notion of darkness. The scene included the search for a black cat in a dark cellar. The blind black searcher was holding an extinguished candle. 1

In August 1849 a London journal called “Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information and Amusement” printed a short item with an acknowledgement to another magazine called “Penny Punch”. The item was titled “A Definition of Darkness”. The scenario was similar to the one above with the search occurring at midnight: 2

References to Lord Bowen, William James, and Charles Darwin appeared many years later. Full details are given further below.

A separate Quote Investigator article about a related quip is available under the title: “The Philosopher, the Theologian, and the Elusive Black Cat”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Blind Man in a Dark Room Looking for a Black Cat That Is Not There

Notes:

  1. 1846 November 9, Democratic Banner (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Louisiana, Pike County, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1849 August 25, Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information and Amusement, Volume 7, Number 329, Random Readings: A Definition of Darkness, Quote Page 272, Column 1, Published by George Biggs, Strand, London; Printed at the Steam press of J. Gadsby, Fleet Street, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

The Eternal Stars Shine Out Again, So Soon As It Is Dark Enough

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Martin Luther King Jr.? Emily Faithfull? Amelia Edith Barr? Charles A. Beard? Thomas Carlyle? Norman Vincent Peale? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular metaphorical expression that encourages people to maintain hope and optimism during times of unhappiness and trouble. Here are three versions:

1) Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
2) When the night is dark enough the stars shine out.
3) Not until it gets really dark do the beautiful stars appear.

Admittedly, there is considerable ambiguity when interpreting these sayings, and the most common meanings may have shifted over time.

The first version above is often attributed to the famous transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I searched a database of his complete works and was unable to find it. Would you please explore this adage?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1843 book “Past and Present” by the influential Scottish philosopher and social commentator Thomas Carlyle. He employed an instance of the metaphor while discussing squalor, strikes, and revolts. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As dark misery settles down on us, and our refuges of lies fall in pieces one after one, the hearts of men, now at last serious, will turn to refuges of truth. The eternal stars shine out again, so soon as it is dark enough.

Different versions of the expression have been circulating for more than a century and a half, but the meaning has been malleable. In the instance above QI believes that Carlyle was suggesting important truths emerged during times of tribulation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson used the expression. Some writers of moral instruction and romantic fiction did use instances in the 1800s.

The prominent historian Charles A. Beard employed the saying in lectures and articles by 1909, but he credited Thomas Carlyle. Indeed, when Beard was asked to summarize his extensive knowledge of the past he produced a condensation that consisted of four laws of history, and one law was based on Carlyle’s words. The other three are listed further below.

The civil rights champion Martin Luther King used an instance in a speech, but he credited Charles A. Beard. The popular religious writer Norman Vincent Peale also helped to popularize the saying.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Eternal Stars Shine Out Again, So Soon As It Is Dark Enough

Notes:

  1. 1843, Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, Book IV: Chapter VIII: The Didactic, Start Page 251, Quote Page 251, Published by Chapman & Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

The Purpose of Life Is Not To Be Happy But To Matter

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Leo Rosten? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: On Facebook and the web the following quotation has been circulating widely:

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

The words are attributed to the famous philosophical essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I have not been able to find a proper citation to an essay by the transcendentalist. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson crafted the words above. Instead, QI believes that the passage was derived from a series of similar statements written and spoken by Leo Rosten who was a teacher and humorist.

In 1962 “The Sunday Star” newspaper of Washington D.C. published the text of an address recently delivered by Leo Rosten at the National Book Awards held in New York. The following excerpt strongly matched the target quotation though it was not identical: 1

The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.

Rosten restated this anti-hedonic proposition multiple times, and he used similar language to communicate his ideas. Detailed references are provided further below.

Continue reading The Purpose of Life Is Not To Be Happy But To Matter

Notes:

  1. 1962 April 8, The Sunday Star (Evening Star), Section: E-Editorial, On Finding Truth: Abandon the Strait Jacket of Conformity (Text of an address by Leo Rosten at the National Book Awards in New York), Quote Page E-2, Column 7, Washington (DC), District of Columbia. (GenealogyBank)

Education Is What Remains After You Have Forgotten Everything You Learned In School

Albert Einstein? B. F. Skinner? Edouard Herriot? C. F. Thwing? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Agnes F. Perkins? James Bryant Conant? E. F. L. Wood? George Savile? Lord Halifax? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: My question concerns a provocative aphorism about memory, schooling, and curriculum. Here are four example statements that can be grouped together:

1) Culture is that which remains with an individual when he has forgotten all he learned.

2) Culture is what is left when what you have learned at college has been forgotten.

3) Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.

4) Education is what is left after you have forgotten all you have learned.

It would be possible to split this set into two subgroups: adages for education and adages for culture. But all the statements conform to the same underlying template, and this leads to a natural collection.

The French Prime Minister Edouard Herriot has been linked to the saying about culture. The famous physicist Albert Einstein and the prominent psychologist B. F. Skinner have been connected to sayings about education. Would you please examine this family of expressions?

Quote Investigator: This family of quotations has been evolving for more than one hundred years, and instances were already circulating before linkages were established to any of the persons named by the questioner. Newspapers credited Edouard Herriot with a comparable adage about culture by 1928. Albert Einstein wrote an essay in 1936 that included a commensurate remark about education, but he credited the words to an unnamed “wit”.

In 1942 E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax employed the remark about education during a speech. Later the statement was reassigned to the 17th century figure George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax. QI believes that this attribution was constructed because of confusion between names. In 1965 B. F. Skinner included an instance of the saying about education in an article about teaching, but he disclaimed credit. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Education Is What Remains After You Have Forgotten Everything You Learned In School

I Will Go Where There Is No Path, and I Will Leave a Trail

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Muriel Strode? Fred V. Hawley? Andrew Taylor Still? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A powerful inspirational quote about choosing your own destiny is often attributed to the notable philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here are two versions:

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

I am confused because I cannot find these words in any of the famous essays by Emerson. The words are occasionally ascribed to others such as George Eliot, Robert Frost, and George Bernard Shaw. Could you tell me who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: Expert Ralph Keyes in the “The Quote Verifier” noted that the expression was commonly attributed to Emerson. Yet, Keyes declared that “No source of this quotation has ever been found in his works”. 1 QI concurs that there is no substantive linkage of this saying to Emerson.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a poem published in August 1903 titled “Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers” by Muriel Strode. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.

Infinitely will I trust nature’s instincts and promptings, but I will not call my own perversions nature.

Each receives but that which is his own returning.
Each hears but that which is the echo of his own call.
Each feels but that which has eaten into his own heart.

I do not bemoan misfortune. To me there is no misfortune. I welcome whatever comes; I go out gladly to meet it.

It is no stigma to wear rags; the disgrace is in continuing to wear them.

The above citation and some others in this article were located by top researcher Barry Popik. 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Will Go Where There Is No Path, and I Will Leave a Trail

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 56, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1903 August, The Open Court: Devoted to the Science of Religion, the Religion of Science, and the Extension of the Religious Parliament Idea, Volume 17, Number 8, Section: Miscellaneous, Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers by Muriel Strode, Start Page 505, Quote Page 505, The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”, Date on website: November 02, 2010, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik com on June 18, 2014) link