Helen Keller? Alexander Graham Bell? Johann P. F. Richter? Miguel de Cervantes? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: A venerable adage emphasizes the desirability of retaining a positive outlook and flexibility. Plans always encounter difficulties, and a successful person must be able to adapt. Here are two instances of a proverb that employs doorways figuratively:
- When one door shuts, another opens.
- When one door closes, another opens.
An addendum to this saying highlights the danger of inaction. Here are two versions:
- We should not look so intently and so sorrowfully upon the closed door that we do not see the newly open door.
- We should not look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we miss the door that has opened.
Sayings in this family have been ascribed to blind social activist Helen Keller, telephone pioneer Alexander Graham Bell, German Romantic writer Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, and eminent Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes. Would you please examine this topic?
Quote Investigator: The “Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs” has an entry for the six-word adage listing the following two early citations. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
When one door shuts, another opens
1586 D. ROWLAND tr. Lazarillo D3V This proverbe was fulfild, when one doore is shut the other openeth.
1620 T. SHELTON tr. Cervantes’ Don Quixote iii. vii. Where one door is shut another is opened.
The first citation refers to an English translation of an influential picaresque Spanish novella titled “La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades” with an anonymous author published by 1554. The second citation refers to an English translation of the famous comic novel “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes dated 1605 for the first part and 1615 for the second part in Spanish.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2015, Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, (Sixth edition), Edited by Jennifer Speake, Entry: “When ONE door shuts, another opens”, Publisher: Oxford University Press. (Accessed via Oxford Reference Online) ↩