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

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?

Dear 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 and 1761 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 Our Greatest Glory Is Not in Never Falling, But in Rising Every Time We Fall

Notes:

  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

Never Lose an Opportunity of Seeing Anything Beautiful. Beauty is God’s Handwriting

Ralph Waldo Emerson? John Ruskin? Charles Kingsley? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Extraordinary scenes of beauty can uplift one’s spirit. The following remark is often attributed to the philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting.

I searched in a database of Emerson’s writings and was unable to locate this quotation. The words are sometimes credited to the influential art critic John Ruskin. Would you please examine the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1848 a new periodical called “Politics for the People” began to publish, and it included an article about the National Gallery in London. The authorship was cloaked by the pseudonym “Parson Lot”. Ultimately, the author was identified as Charles Kingsley, a member of the clergy who later became a Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge.

Kingsley believed that a gallery had the potential to brighten the lives of visitors by exposing them to lovely artworks: 1

Picture-galleries should be the workman’s paradise, and garden of pleasure, to which he goes to refresh his eyes and heart with beautiful shapes and sweet colouring, when they are wearied with dull bricks and mortar, and the ugly colourless things which fill the workshop and the factory.

Kingsley originated the quotation as a piece of advice to readers in this 1848 article. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

Those who live in towns should carefully remember this, for their own sakes, for their wives’ sakes, for their children’s sakes. Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful. Beauty is God’s hand-writing—a way-side sacrament; welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, every fair flower, and thank for it Him, the fountain of all loveliness, and drink it in, simply and earnestly, with all your eyes; it is a charmed draught, a cup of blessing.

Over time this quotation has incorrectly been reassigned to other famous thinkers, e.g., Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Ruskin. These misattributions have been in circulation for more than one hundred years. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Lose an Opportunity of Seeing Anything Beautiful. Beauty is God’s Handwriting

Notes:

  1. 1848 May 6, Politics for the People, Number 1, “The National Gallery.—No. I.” by Parson Lot (Charles Kingsley), Start Page 5, Quote Page 5, Published by John W. Parker, West Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

What You Are Comes To You

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Norman Vincent Peale? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is often attributed to the famous philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson:

What you are comes to you.

Some adherents of “New Thought” and “New Age” belief systems view this as a spiritual law. This saying reminded me of the quasi-mystical book “The Secret”. However, I have not found this sentence in Emerson’s essays. Could you examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI has not located this quotation in the works of Emerson, and QI hypothesizes that the ascription to Emerson emerged from a misreading of a passage by the best-selling writer Norman Vincent Peale who was a minister and proponent of “Positive Thinking”.

In Peale’s 1967 book “Enthusiasm Makes the Difference” he included a section about a psychological strategy he labeled the “‘As If’ Principle” which was summarized with the following quotation: 1

“If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.”

Peale recounted an anecdote in which an apathetic baseball player started to play as if he were enthusiastic. The athlete’s energy and vitality led to success and admiration, and these positive developments generated genuine enthusiasm.

Peale ended the section with a discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson that included the quotation under investigation. But Peale did not claim that the short phrase “What you are comes to you” was from Emerson. In fact, the phrase was Peale’s and not Emerson’s. Peale was presenting his own summary analysis of Emerson’s perspective:

You too can activate yourself into enthusiasm by use of the “As if” principle. What you are comes to you. This remarkable principle is thus stated by Emerson, “A man is a method, a progressive arrangement; a selecting principle, gathering his like unto him wherever he goes.” So act as you want to be and you will be as you act.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What You Are Comes To You

Notes:

  1. 1967, Enthusiasm Makes the Difference by Norman Vincent Peale, Page 20-22, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans of 1971 fourth printing)

The Strength of the Sole Leather Has Passed into the Fibre of Your Body

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following quotation about the value of exercise is attributed to the transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson:

When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the shoe leather has passed into the fiber of your body.

I searched for this expression in a database of writings by Emerson and was unable to find it. Neither the Wikiquote main page nor the discussion page for Emerson listed the saying. Would you be willing to explore these words?

Quote Investigator: A version of this statement did appear in the “Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations: 1849-1855”, but some crucial words were different. Emerson spoke of “sole leather” and “fibre” instead of “shoe leather” and “fiber”. These small differences can cause a database search to fail. Even a search for a phrase that exactly matches a phrase that is present in a large-scale text database can sometimes fail for a variety of complex reasons.

Here is an excerpt from a journal page written in 1851 when Emerson was 48 years old. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Economy. Nature says thou shalt keep the air, skate, swim, walk, ride, run. When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the sole leather has passed into the fibre of your body. I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out. He is the richest man who pays the largest debt to his shoemaker.

The multi-volume edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journals was edited by his son, Edward Waldo Emerson, and his grandson, Waldo Emerson Forbes. Publication was spread across several years, and the volume containing the excerpt above was released in 1913.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Strength of the Sole Leather Has Passed into the Fibre of Your Body

Notes:

  1. 1913, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations: 1849-1855, Edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, (Age 48, 1851), Quote Page 232, Published by Constable & Co., London, and Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive archive.org) link

Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

Mary Schmich? Eleanor Roosevelt? Kurt Vonnegut? Baz Luhrmann? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Jane Addams? Mark Toby?

Dear Quote Investigator: To achieve personal growth it is sometimes necessary to move outside of a comfort zone. Unjustified fears can constrain exploration and positive development. Here is a saying I find valuable:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

The above advice is typically attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt who was First Lady for many years and a noted social activist. But I have been unable to find any justification for this ascription. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: An exact match for this quotation appeared within a June 1997 essay by Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. She began her article with the statement: “Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out”, and she continued by presenting a staccato sequence of items of advice aimed at young students. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Mary Schmich’s essay went viral and became a smash hit by August 1997, but the words were not credited to her. Instead, the work was retitled “Wear Sunscreen” and was incorrectly described as a graduation speech given by the well-known author Kurt Vonnegut at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 2

In 1999 the essay was transformed into a popular spoken-word song titled “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by the prominent film director Baz Luhrmann who credited Schmich. The quotation was included in the lyrics. 3 4

The famous transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson employed a precursor to the saying in the nineteenth century. The conception of incrementally conquering fears as a pathway to growth evolved over many decades. The following five instances of expressions are examined in greater depth further below:

Always do what you are afraid to do. (1841) —Popularized by Ralph Waldo Emerson

To do what you are afraid to do is to guide your life by fear. How much better not to be afraid to do what you believe in doing! (circa 1881) —Jane Addams

You must do the thing you think you cannot do. (1960) —Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m supposed to do one thing every day that I want to do but I’m afraid to do. (1961) —Mark Toby

Do one thing every day that scares you. (1997) —Mary Schmich

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

Notes:

  1. 1997 June 1, Chicago Tribune, “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young” by Mary Schmich, Page 4C, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  2. 1997 August 13, Washington Post, Section: Editorial, “The Speech That Wasn’t”, Quote Page A20:1, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. YouTube video, Title: Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen, Uploaded on May 24, 2007, Uploaded by: steffyweffy777, (Quotation starts at 1 minute 20 seconds of 5 minutes 4 seconds), Lyrics based on essay by Mary Schmich, (Accessed youtube.com on August 8, 2013) link
  4. 1999 March 31, Chicago Tribune, “From column to song: ‘Sunscreen’ spreads to Chicago” by Mark Caro [Tribune staff writer], Online Archive of Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois. (Accessed chicagotribune.com on August 8, 2013) link

We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children

Amish Saying? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Native American Proverb? Wendell Berry? Oscar Wilde? Chief Seattle? Moses Henry Cass? Dennis J. Hall? Helen Caldicott? Lester Brown? David R. Brower? Taghi Farvar? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In my opinion the most thoughtful and poignant quotation about the environment is the following:

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children

No one seems to know the origin of this saying. Perhaps it was constructed in recent decades, or perhaps it encapsulates the wisdom of previous centuries. Could you attempt to trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: A precursor statement was attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde in the 1936 book “Oscar Wilde Discovers America” by Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith. The remark appeared in a section of the book discussing Wilde’s visit to Canada in 1882. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“The things of nature do not really belong to us,” he said; “we should leave them to our children as we have received them.”

A separate QI article about the quotation above is available here.

The earliest close match appeared in the 1971 book “The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge” by influential environmental activist Wendell Berry who emphasized the desirability of preserving natural areas and adapting a long-range perspective about the environment: 2

We can learn about it from exceptional people of our own culture, and from other cultures less destructive than ours. I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children…

The wording in the passage above did not exactly match the modern instance of the saying, but QI conjectures that later expressions evolved from Berry’s remark.

In May 1971 Berry published an essay in “Audubon” magazine titled “The One-Inch Journey” which was based on chapter 2 of the book mentioned above. The excerpt above was reprinted in the essay, and thus it achieved wider dissemination. This appearance also linked the saying to the Audubon Society. 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children

Notes:

  1. 1936, Oscar Wilde Discovers America [1882] by Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith, Book 4: Eastward, Southward, Northward, Chapter 2: Adds a New Horror To Death, Quote Page 350, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1971, The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge by Wendell Berry, Photographs by Gene Meatyard, Chapter 2: The One-Inch Journey, Start Page 11, Quote Page 26, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1971 May, Audubon, The One-Inch Journey by Wendell Berry, Start Page 4, Quote Page 9, Column 1, National Audubon Society, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words; Watch Your Words, They Become Actions

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Lao Tzu? Frank Outlaw? Gautama Buddha? Bishop Beckwaith? Father of Margaret Thatcher?

Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following people have in common: Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, supermarket magnate Frank Outlaw, spiritual teacher Gautama Buddha, and the father of Margaret Thatcher? Each one of these individuals has been credited with versions of the following quote:

Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.

Can you sort out this confusing situation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a closely matching expression located by QI was published in a Texas newspaper feature called “What They’re Saying” in May 1977. The saying was ascribed to the creator of a successful U.S. supermarket chain called Bi-Lo: 1

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

FRANK OUTLAW
Late President of the Bi-Lo Stores

QI believes that this saying evolved over many decades. One interesting property that is shared between the modern expression and several precursor sayings involves wordplay. Consider five of the key words in the saying: words, actions, thoughts, character, and habits. The initial letters can be arranged to spell the repeated focal term: w, a, t, c, h. This type of wordplay will be discussed further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order Continue reading Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words; Watch Your Words, They Become Actions

Notes:

  1. 1977 May 18, San Antonio Light, What They’re Saying, Quote Page 7-B (NArch Page 28), Column 4, San Antonio, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)