People Who Say It Cannot Be Done Should Not Interrupt Those Who Are Doing It

George Bernard Shaw? Puck? Saxby’s Magazine? Elbert Hubbard? Confucius? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage is the perfect antidote to excessive negativity and obstructionism:

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

These words are often attributed to Asian sage Confucius and to the acclaimed playwright George Bernard Shaw; unfortunately, I have not been able to locate any solid data to back up this claim. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the ascriptions to Confucius and Shaw.

QI hypothesizes that the modern expression evolved from a comment about the rapidity of change and innovation at the turn of the century that was printed in the humor magazine “Puck” in December 1902. Emphasis added to excerpts:[1] 1902 December 24, Puck, Volume 52, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Published at the Puck Building, New York, Copyright Keppler and Schwarzmann, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Things move along so rapidly nowadays that people saying: “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.

Multiple newspapers and journals reprinted the remark in 1903. One instance appeared on March 7, 1903 in a periodical called “The Public” based in Chicago, Illinois. An acknowledgment to the humor magazine “Puck” was appended:[2] 1903 March 7, The Public, Number 257, Editor Louis F. Post, (Filler item), Quote Page 766, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

Things move along so rapidly nowadays that people saying: “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.—Puck.

On March 13, 1903 an instance was published in “The Evansville Courier” of Evansville, Indiana with an acknowledgement to “Saxby’s Magazine”. The statements above and below were both printed as filler items without additional contextual information:[3] 1903 March 16, The Evansville Courier (Evansville Courier and Press), (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Evansville, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)

Some philosopher takes time to remark that things move along so rapidly nowadays that people who say “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.—Saxby’s Magazine.

In April 1903 a journal for educators and parents called “Kindergarten Magazine” printed an instance that exactly matched the statement in “The Public”. The “Puck” acknowledgement was included:[4] 1903 April, Kindergarten Magazine, Volume 15, Number 8, (Filler item), Quote Page 488, Kindergarten Magazine Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

During the ensuing decades the expression was reshaped. In 1914 a charismatic aphorism constructor named Elbert Hubbard printed a variant in his journal “The Philistine”, but he disclaimed authorship. By 1962 a pseudo Confucian version had been fabricated, and by 2004 a version attributed to George Bernard Shaw was circulating.

Additional citations in chronological order are given below.

Continue reading People Who Say It Cannot Be Done Should Not Interrupt Those Who Are Doing It

References

References
1 1902 December 24, Puck, Volume 52, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Published at the Puck Building, New York, Copyright Keppler and Schwarzmann, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
2 1903 March 7, The Public, Number 257, Editor Louis F. Post, (Filler item), Quote Page 766, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
3 1903 March 16, The Evansville Courier (Evansville Courier and Press), (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Evansville, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)
4 1903 April, Kindergarten Magazine, Volume 15, Number 8, (Filler item), Quote Page 488, Kindergarten Magazine Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing

Aristotle? Elbert Hubbard? William Pitt? Fred Shero? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Receiving criticism is an unpleasant experience, but it is also inevitable. If your actions in the world are significant then you will draw detractors. This notion is cleverly expressed in the following pointed remark:

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

This statement of anti-advice has been attributed to two very different figures: the ancient Greek sage Aristotle and the American aphorist publisher Elbert Hubbard. Who do you think deserves credit?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found any substantive evidence to support an ascription to Aristotle.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an 1898 collection of short essays titled “Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen” by Elbert Hubbard. A piece about the abolitionist politician William H. Seward noted that he was the target of an assassination attempt. But Hubbard suggested that one must brave censure and danger to live a full and meaningful life. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[1]1898, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard, Section: William H. Seward, Start Page 363, Quote Page 370, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York; The Knickerbocker Press, … Continue reading

If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing—court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.

Hubbard crafted multiple versions of the expression, and the saying was often attributed to him in the early decades of the 1900s.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing

References

References
1 1898, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard, Section: William H. Seward, Start Page 363, Quote Page 370, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York; The Knickerbocker Press, New York. (Edition copyright 1898; Reprint date November 1901) (HathiTrust Full View) link link

The Difference Between Stupidity and Genius Is That Genius Has Its Limits

Albert Einstein? Alexandre Dumas, fils? Elbert Hubbard? Brooks F. Beebe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following funny saying is usually attributed to Albert Einstein:

The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

Yet, no one provides any justification for crediting the brilliant scientist with this jest. Is this another fake Einstein quote?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. Indeed, it is listed in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press.[1] 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Page 478, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)

A precursor statement written in French appeared in volume 2 of the “Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle” (Great Universal Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century) within an entry for “Bêtise” (Stupidity). This volume was published circa 1865, and the quotation was credited to Alexandre Dumas:[2]Circa 1865, Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle: Français, Historique, Géographique, Mythologique, Bibliographique, etcetera, Volume 2, Entry: Bêtise, Quote Page 650, Column 1, Published … Continue reading

Une chose qui m’humilie profondément est de voir que le génie humain a des limites, quand la bêtise humaine n’en a pas. (Alex. Dum.)

One possible translation into English is the following:

One thing that humbles me deeply is to see that human genius has its limits while human stupidity does not.

The attribution “Alex. Dum.” was probably a reference to Alexandre Dumas, fils, who was a dramatist known for the work “The Lady of the Camellias”, widely referred to as “Camille”. He shared his name with his father, Alexandre Dumas, père, who was the author of the popular novels “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers”.

Another statement written in French appeared in the journal of a scholarly association in 1886. The words were placed between quotation marks to indicate that the joke was already in circulation, and no specific attribution was given.[3]1886, Bulletin de la Société Libre D’émulation du Commerce et de L’industrie de la Seine-Inférieure, “Dissertation sur la vulgarisation de la langue latine” par M. E. … Continue reading

« Le génie humain a des bornes, Mais la sottise n’en a pas. »

One possible translation into English is the following:

“Human genius has its limits, but stupidity does not.”

The earliest evidence in English located by QI was published in a periodical called “The Travelers’ Record” in 1890 which acknowledged a French newspaper. The saying was included in a list titled “Some of Dumas’s Maxims”. Here were three items from the list. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[4] 1890 February, The Travelers’ Record, Volume 25, Some of Dumas’s Maxims, (L’Echo de Paris, translated in the Transatlantic), Quote Page 8, Column 2, (Google Books Full View) link

Some of Dumas’s Maxims
[L’Echo de Paris, translated in the Transatlantic]

Let all your alms-giving be anonymous. It has the double advantage of suppressing at the same time ingratitude and abuse.

God made fools in order that life might be more tolerable to people of wit.

What distresses me is to see that human genius has limits and human stupidity none.

The saying has been circulating and evolving in English for more than one hundred years. An instance was attributed to Albert Einstein by 1994; however, Einstein died in 1955, so this citation has little probative value.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Difference Between Stupidity and Genius Is That Genius Has Its Limits

References

References
1 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Page 478, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
2 Circa 1865, Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle: Français, Historique, Géographique, Mythologique, Bibliographique, etcetera, Volume 2, Entry: Bêtise, Quote Page 650, Column 1, Published by Pierre Larousse, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
3 1886, Bulletin de la Société Libre D’émulation du Commerce et de L’industrie de la Seine-Inférieure, “Dissertation sur la vulgarisation de la langue latine” par M. E. Nicolle, Start Page 85, Quote Page 86, Imprimerie de Espérance Cagniard, Rouen, France. (Google Books Full View) link
4 1890 February, The Travelers’ Record, Volume 25, Some of Dumas’s Maxims, (L’Echo de Paris, translated in the Transatlantic), Quote Page 8, Column 2, (Google Books Full View) link

The Graveyards Are Full of Indispensable Men

Charles De Gaulle? Georges Clemenceau? Elbert Hubbard? R. C. O’Brien? Vladmir Bjornberg? Seth Wiggins? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I would love to have a specific citation for the following quotation. Here are two versions that I’ve seen many times:

1) The graveyards are full of indispensable men.
2) The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.

This is often attributed to Charles De Gaulle, and it would be a good fit with a mordant Gallic world view. Ralph Keyes’s “The Quote Verifier” offers a baker’s dozen of alternative attributions as far-flung as Winston Churchill and Rick Santorum. Keyes concluded with “Verdict: An old saying”.[1] 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Pages 84-85 and 294-295, St Martin’s Griffin, New York.(Verified on paper)

Quote Investigator: The earliest version of this sentiment located by QI does not use the word indispensable, but the saying still communicates the same idea.

Elbert Hubbard was a prominent writer and publisher who also founded the Roycroft artisan community in New York. He collected adages and also formulated many of his own. In 1907 his publication “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” printed the following phrase as a free standing saying without attribution:[2] 1907 May, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Page 190, Volume 24, Number 6, Published by Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, New York. (Google Books full view) link

The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.

By definition an “indispensable” person is a person one could not do without. This adage has been attributed to Hubbard for many decades, and he still sometimes receives credit today.

In 1909 a newspaper in Oklahoma printed the phrase as part of a larger passage that carefully delineated its implications. Boldface has been added to excerpts.:[3] 1909 February 4, The Evening News, Press Comment, Page 2, Column 3, [NArch Page 7], Ada, Oklahoma. (NewspaperArchive)

Young man, as you perambulate down the pathway of life toward an unavoidable bald head bordered with gray hairs it would be well to bear in mind that the cemeteries are full of men this world could not get along without, and note the fact that things move along after each funeral procession at about the same gait they went before. It makes no difference how important you may be, don’t get the idea under your hat that this world can’t get along without you —Abilene Reporter.

In 1919 a magazine called “The Recruiters’ Bulletin” published by the United States Marine Corps printed a version of the adage and credited the words to an Icelandic poet:[4] 1919 May, The Recruiters’ Bulletin, Section: Editorial, Another Swan Song, Page 12, Volume 5, Number 4, United States Marine Corps, New York. (Google Books full view) link

Several years ago, in these very columns, we quoted the words of the famous Icelandic poet, Vladmir Bjornberg, who wrote “The graveyards are filled with the men the world could not get on without.” We are going away and we’ll never be missed.

The ascription “Vladmir Bjornberg” may have been invented by the editor of “The Recruiters’ Bulletin”, Thomas G. Sterrett. See the comment presented after this article.

In July 1924 a member of the Irish Parliament named Mr. McGarry speaking during a question and answer period employed a version the expression with the word “indispensable” that was similar to modern instances though a specific cemetery was named:[5]1924 July 15, Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives), Irish Parliament, Leinster House, Dublin, Ceisteanna (Questions for the President), Speaking: Mr. McGarry. (Accessed debates.oireachtas.ie on … Continue reading

They have acted in the belief, and they have carried on as if they believed that there was no alternative Government. They have forgotten that Glasnevin Cemetery is full of indispensable people.

Decades later in 1962 the French statesman Georges Clemenceau was credited with a version of the saying, and later the words were attributed to the French general Charles de Gaulle. Details for these citations are given further below.

Top-researcher Barry Popik has done great work tracing this maxim, and this article uses some of his pioneering results.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Graveyards Are Full of Indispensable Men

References

References
1 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Pages 84-85 and 294-295, St Martin’s Griffin, New York.(Verified on paper)
2 1907 May, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Page 190, Volume 24, Number 6, Published by Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, New York. (Google Books full view) link
3 1909 February 4, The Evening News, Press Comment, Page 2, Column 3, [NArch Page 7], Ada, Oklahoma. (NewspaperArchive)
4 1919 May, The Recruiters’ Bulletin, Section: Editorial, Another Swan Song, Page 12, Volume 5, Number 4, United States Marine Corps, New York. (Google Books full view) link
5 1924 July 15, Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives), Irish Parliament, Leinster House, Dublin, Ceisteanna (Questions for the President), Speaking: Mr. McGarry. (Accessed debates.oireachtas.ie on May 24, 2014) link link