Winston Churchill? Samuel Johnson? James Boswell? Aristotle? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The rights and freedoms enshrined in political documents are sometimes nullified by oppressive governments. The health of a society depends on the principles and the bravery of the populace. Here is a pertinent adage:
Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
These words have been attributed to statesman Winston Churchill, but I have not been able to find a citation. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: In 1931 Winston Churchill wrote an article published in “Collier’s” magazine about King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and the piece included Churchill’s cogent remark about courage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives. Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others. Courage, physical and moral, King Alfonso has proved on every occasion of personal danger or political stress. Many years ago in the face of a difficult situation Alfonso made the proud declaration, no easy boast in Spain, “I was born on the throne, I shall die on it.”
The common modern version of this quotation has been simplified and streamlined. The phrase “as has been said” is typically omitted. Churchill was probably referring to a remark by the famous 18th-century man of letters Samuel Johnson. The quintessential biographer James Boswell who authored “The Life of Samuel Johnson” described a conversation about public speaking that occurred in 1775: 2
“Why then, (I asked,) is it thought disgraceful for a man not to fight, and not disgraceful not to speak in publick?” Johnson. “Because there may be other reasons for a man’s not speaking in publick than want of resolution: he may have nothing to say, (laughing). Whereas, Sir, you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1931 June 27, Collier’s, Unlucky Alfonso by Winston Churchill, Start Page 11, Quote Page 49, Column 2, P. F. Collier and Son, New York. (Unz Database) ↩
- 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, in Chronological Order by James Boswell, Volume 1 of 2, Time period specified: April 5, 1775, Quote Page 473, Printed by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩