Tag Archives: John Greenleaf Whittier

Success Is Failure Turned Inside Out

John Greenleaf Whittier? Edgar Guest? Labor? Nellie Maxwell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular poem about perseverance includes these lines:

When all is pressing you down a bit—
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

The poets John Greenleaf Whittier and Edgar A. Guest have both been credited. Would you please determine the actual author?

Quote Investigator: Edgar A. Guest was a very popular poet for several decades during the twentieth century, and his poems appeared in a syndicated newspaper column. On March 3, 1921 he published the following work: 1

Keep Going

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must—but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

During the decades after publication the work was broadly disseminated, but the attribution was often changed. In addition, words, phrases, and stanzas were sometimes altered or deleted.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1921 March 3, The Indianapolis Star, Just Folks by Edgar A. Guest (Syndicated), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

The Joy That You Give to Others Is the Joy That Comes Back to You

John Greenleaf Whittier? Margaret E. Sangster? Anonymous?

heart11Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I came across a heartfelt short poem titled “Happy New Year” containing the following line:

The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.

The verse was attributed to the prominent nineteenth-century poet John Greenleaf Whittier who died in 1892, but the earliest citation I could find was dated 1901. Was this attribution accurate? Was the work posthumous?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the common modern attribution to Whittier was inaccurate. The lines in the short poem were part of longer poem by Margaret E. Sangster titled “The Christmas Tree”, and Sangster should receive credit for her work.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations”. Sangster’s didactic poem contained 54 lines and was printed on the front page of the January 1878 issue. The first four lines described a child’s desire for a Christmas tree: 1

Our darling little Florence, our blessing and our pride,
With dimpled cheeks, and golden hair, and brown eyes open wide,
To look at every pretty thing, came flying in to me:
“O please,” she pleaded earnestly, “I want a Christmas tree.”

When the request for a tree was granted the child invited lonely and impoverished children to a Christmas party held around the tree. The final four lines of the poem were the following: 2

For somehow, not only for Christmas, but all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you;
And the more you spend in blessing the poor, the lonely, and sad,
The more to your heart’s possessing, returns to make you glad.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1878 January, The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations, The Christmas Tree by Margaret E. Sangster, Quote Page 1, Column 1 and 2, Jesse Haney & Company. New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1878 January, The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations, The Christmas Tree by Margaret E. Sangster, Quote Page 1, Column 1 and 2, Jesse Haney & Company. New York. (Google Books Full View) link