A Friend Is a Present You Give Yourself

Robert Louis Stevenson? Betsy Patterson? Harry B. Brockett? Walter Winchell? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: Living a full and happy life is facilitated by maintaining a network of steadfast friendships. Here are three versions of a germane adage:

  • A friend is a present you give yourself.
  • A friend is a gift you give yourself.
  • A friend is a gift you give to yourself.

This saying has been attributed to the famous adventure and horror novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, but I have been unable to locate a citation. What do you think?

Quote investigator: QI has been unable to locate substantive evidence ascribing this statement to Robert Louis Stevenson who died in 1894. He received credit by 1946 which is very late. See the citations presented further below.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in a column by Betsy Patterson published in “The Baltimore Sun” of Maryland in 1917. Patterson presented a verse and stated that “these lines run through my head”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“A friend is a present you give yourself,”
Says a charming old-time song.
So I put you down with the best of them,
For that is where you belong.
Among the gifts I have given to me,
Most comforting, tried and true,
The one that I oftenest think about
Is the gift of myself to you.

The starting lines suggest that the adage appeared in an earlier song although QI has not yet found such a song. It is also possible that there is no earlier song, and the lines were included to evoke nostalgia. The creator of the adage was not identified.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Friend Is a Present You Give Yourself


  1. 1917 June 10, The Baltimore Sun, Betsy Patterson’s Chatter: A Weekly Chronicle of Colorful Phases of the Social Life of the City, Quote Page 8, Column 1, Baltimore, Maryland. (Newspapers_com)

It Is Perhaps a More Fortunate Destiny To Have a Taste for Collecting Shells Than To Be Born a Millionaire

Robert Louis Stevenson? Florence Davies? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson is best known for his famous novels, e.g., “Treasure Island” and “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. He believed that an individual should be invigorated by desires, interests, and aspirations otherwise he or she will lead a blank life. Stevenson gave shell collecting as an example of a worthy interest. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In the spring of 1879 Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a few draft chapters for a projected treatise on ethics; however, he never completed the treatise. Stevenson died in 1894, and a multi-volume set containing “The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson” was published during the ensuing years. The unrevised draft chapters appeared in volume four in 1896 under the title “Lay Morals”. The following excerpt criticized idle rich people and complimented shell collecting. Emphasis added the excerpts by QI: 1

But money is only a means; it presupposes a man to use it. The rich can go where he pleases, but perhaps please himself nowhere. He can buy a library or visit the whole world, but perhaps has neither patience to read nor intelligence to see. The table may be loaded and the appetite wanting ; the purse may be full, and the heart empty. He may have gained the world and lost himself; and with all his wealth around him, in a great house and spacious and beautiful demesne, he may live as blank a life as any tattered ditcher.

Without an appetite, without an aspiration, void of appreciation, bankrupt of desire and hope, there, in his great house, let him sit and look upon his fingers. It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire. Although neither is to be despised, it is always better policy to learn an interest than to make a thousand pounds; for the money will soon be spent, or perhaps you may feel no joy in spending it; but the interest remains imperishable and ever new.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Perhaps a More Fortunate Destiny To Have a Taste for Collecting Shells Than To Be Born a Millionaire


  1. 1896, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Miscellanies, Volume 4, Lay Morals, Start Page 313, Quote Page 360, Printed by T. and A. Constable for Longmans Green and Company, Sold by Chatto and Windus, London. (Google Books Full View) link