Category Archives: Sarah Frances Brown

As You Climb the Ladder of Success, Be Sure It’s Leaning Against the Right Building

Stephen R. Covey? Thomas Merton? Allen Raine? Anne Adaliza Evans? Mae Maloo? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The metaphorical notion of climbing a ladder of success was in use by writers in the nineteenth century. Here is an intriguing cautionary twist about faulty objectives:

When you get to the top of the ladder you may find it is propped against the wrong wall.

This thought has been credited to the educator and best-selling author Stephen R. Covey and to the theologian and activist Thomas Merton. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this expression has been difficult because of its variability. The earliest evidence found by QI appeared in “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” of New York in 1915. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“You may get to the very top of the ladder, and then find it has not been leaning against the right wall.”—Allen Raine.

This quotation did not explicitly mention a “ladder of success”, but the allusion was clear. “Allen Raine” was the pseudonym of a popular Welsh novelist named Anne Adaliza Evans, but QI is not certain whether the newspaper intended to attribute the quote to her or to some other Allen Raine.

The citation above reveals that neither Thomas Merton who was born in 1915 nor Stephen R. Covey who was born in 1932 originated this extended metaphor. In fact, QI has not yet found any substantive evidence linking the notion to Merton. On the other hand, Covey did employ it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1915 December 30, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Section: Picture and Sporting, (Filler item in a box), Quote Page 4, Column 6, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Twenty Years From Now You Will Be More Disappointed By The Things You Didn’t Do Than By The Ones You Did Do

Mark Twain? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Apocryphal?

hjacksongalactic05Dear Quote Investigator: The Virgin Galactic company of Richard Branson plans to offer suborbital spaceflights for tourists. The organization put together a beautiful brochure containing the following quotation credited to Mark Twain: 1

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Can you tell me where this was written by Mark Twain? I have not been able to locate this astute piece of advice in his novels or essays.

Quote Investigator: QI will be unable to tell you where to find this passage in the works of Twain because he never wrote it. Yet, the words are regularly credited to him. For example, the April 20, 1998 issue of The New Yorker magazine printed a vibrant full page advertisement depicting an ocean scene that prominently featured a version of this saying with the label “attributed to Mark Twain”. 2

The website TwainQuotes.com edited by Barbara Schmidt is a key resource for checking quotations attributed to Twain, and Schmidt states that “the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic”. 3

The earliest appearance that QI has located is relatively recent, 1990. The bestselling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. published the work containing the quotation, but he did not take credit for it. The book “P.S. I Love You” contained a collection of wise aphorisms from Brown’s mother, Sarah Frances Brown. Each page contained one thought, and the advice under investigation was printed on page 13. Each remark was prefaced with “P.S.” and ended with “I love you, Mom”. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Spoiler Warning: This post contains a spoiler for a version of the popular game Minecraft.

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Notes:

  1. Virgin Galactic website at virgingalactic.com, Link on homepage for Downloadable Brochure describing suborbital space flights. Quotation ascribed to Mark Twain is on the first page. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  2. 1998 April 20, New Yorker magazine, Page 25, Advertisement with title “Warming Trends in the Caribbean”, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)
  3. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt, Comment at bottom of webpage titled Discovery. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  4. 1990, “P.S. I Love You” by H Jackson Brown, Page 13, Rutledge Hill Press, a Thomas Nelson Company, Nashville, Tennessee. (Many thanks to the librarian at the Columbia County Public Library in Lake City, Florida for verifying the quotation on paper; Cross-checked using Amazon Look Inside)