The Eternal Stars Shine Out Again, So Soon As It Is Dark Enough

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Martin Luther King Jr.? Emily Faithfull? Amelia Edith Barr? Charles A. Beard? Thomas Carlyle? Norman Vincent Peale? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular metaphorical expression that encourages people to maintain hope and optimism during times of unhappiness and trouble. Here are three versions:

1) Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
2) When the night is dark enough the stars shine out.
3) Not until it gets really dark do the beautiful stars appear.

Admittedly, there is considerable ambiguity when interpreting these sayings, and the most common meanings may have shifted over time.

The first version above is often attributed to the famous transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I searched a database of his complete works and was unable to find it. Would you please explore this adage?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1843 book “Past and Present” by the influential Scottish philosopher and social commentator Thomas Carlyle. He employed an instance of the metaphor while discussing squalor, strikes, and revolts. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As dark misery settles down on us, and our refuges of lies fall in pieces one after one, the hearts of men, now at last serious, will turn to refuges of truth. The eternal stars shine out again, so soon as it is dark enough.

Different versions of the expression have been circulating for more than a century and a half, but the meaning has been malleable. In the instance above QI believes that Carlyle was suggesting important truths emerged during times of tribulation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson used the expression. Some writers of moral instruction and romantic fiction did use instances in the 1800s.

The prominent historian Charles A. Beard employed the saying in lectures and articles by 1909, but he credited Thomas Carlyle. Indeed, when Beard was asked to summarize his extensive knowledge of the past he produced a condensation that consisted of four laws of history, and one law was based on Carlyle’s words. The other three are listed further below.

The civil rights champion Martin Luther King used an instance in a speech, but he credited Charles A. Beard. The popular religious writer Norman Vincent Peale also helped to popularize the saying.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Eternal Stars Shine Out Again, So Soon As It Is Dark Enough


  1. 1843, Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, Book IV: Chapter VIII: The Didactic, Start Page 251, Quote Page 251, Published by Chapman & Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Written Without Fear and Without Research

Dorothy Parker? Carl L. Becker? Thomas Reed Powell? Charles A. Beard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Dorothy Parker wrote book reviews containing memorable zingers. When she examined a scientific volume she reportedly wrote the following:

This work was written without fear and without research.

I have not been able to determine when she wrote this. Nor have I figured out the title of the excoriated book. Would you be willing to help?

Quote Investigator: In 1944 the quotation and anecdote collector Bennett Cerf published “Try and Stop Me” which included a section dedicated to the sayings of Dorothy Parker. Cerf presented the following instance of the quip: 1

She polished off one scientific volume with the dictum, “It was written without fear and without research.”

QI has been unable to locate evidence of a linkage to Parker before this date. Also, QI has not found the joke directly in a review written by Parker. Interestingly, the expression was in circulation for decades before Cerf’s ascription.

The “Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912” included an article by Carl L. Becker who was at that time a Professor of History at the University of Kansas. Becker reviewed several history texts and singled out one work for harshly comical analysis. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

The great books, however, are not the only ones that enlist the attention of the critical reviewer. It sometimes happens that a slight book is significant for what it points to. I have in mind, for example, the little volume of Mr. A. M. Simons entitled “Social Forces in American History;” not perhaps a very wise performance; written, it must be confessed, without fear and without research; written nevertheless with profound conviction, and significant because it is representative of what probably passes for history among militant socialists, but significant above all because in the next 50 years many histories of the United States, and better ones than this, will doubtless be written from the same point of view.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Written Without Fear and Without Research


  1. 1944, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 111, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1914, Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912, The Reviewing of Historical Books by Carl Becker (Professor at University of Kansas), Start Page 127, Quote Page 133, Submitted to the Congress of the United States by Smithsonian Institution for the American Historical Association, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust) link link