I Owe All My Success in Life to Having Been Always a Quarter of an Hour Before My Time

Horatio Nelson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Horatio Nelson was a famous British naval hero who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Apparently, he believed that advance readiness was crucial to his success. He said that he owed everything to always being fifteen or twenty minutes early. Would you please help me to find a citation for this remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Hermit in London: Or, Sketches of English Manners” by Felix M’Donogh in 1819. Horatio Nelson delivered the line while conversing with a tradesman. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . I commend and highly esteem the principle and plan of the late immortal Lord Nelson, who held promptitude of measures and exactness as to time as most valuable qualities, and who, when he recommended a tradesman to send off some articles for him so early as 6 A.M., on the man’s saying “Yes, my Lord, I will be on the spot myself by six o’clock,” mildly touched him on the shoulder, and with a very significant look added, “Mr. —–, a quarter of an hour before, if you please.” The tradesman seemed astonished; but stammered out, “Surely, my Lord, if you wish it; yes, a quarter before six; yes, a quarter before, instead of six!” “Right,” said his Lordship, “it is to that quarter before the time that I owe all the good I ever did.”

This anecdote above was recounted fourteen years after the death of Lord Nelson reducing its credibility. Nevertheless, the saying and its attribution achieved popularity during the ensuing decades. Perhaps an earlier citation will be discovered by future researchers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading I Owe All My Success in Life to Having Been Always a Quarter of an Hour Before My Time


  1. 1819, The Hermit in London: Or, Sketches of English Manners by Felix M’Donogh, Volume 1, Too Late for Dinner, Start Page 39, Quote Page 50, Printed for Henry Colburn, London. (Google Books Full View) link