A Poet Is Born, Not Paid

Wilson Mizner? Addison Mizner? Douglas Malloch? Louis Ginsberg? Anonymous?

orpheus07Dear Quote Investigator: An adage from antiquity asserts that a great poet must have an inborn talent that cannot be taught or feigned:

A poet is born, not made.

The dire financial condition of the market for poetry has inspired a humorously modified expression:

A poet is born, not paid.

This quip has been attributed to the playwright, entrepreneur, and rogue Wilson Mizner; it has also been ascribed to Wilson’s brother, the architect Addison Mizner. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a humor column containing miscellaneous items that was published in “The Springfield Daily Republican” of Springfield, Massachusetts in August 1881. No attribution was listed for the remark. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A poet is born, not paid.

The line was printed in other periodicals, i.e., “The Cincinnati Commercial” of Cincinnati, Ohio in December 1881 2 and “Donahoe’s Magazine” of Boston, Massachusetts in January 1882. 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Poet Is Born, Not Paid


  1. 1881 August 31, The Springfield Daily Republican “Out of Breath”, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1881 December 1, The Cincinnati Commercial, Personalities, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Cincinnati, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1882 January, Donahoe’s Magazine, Volume 7, Number 1, The Humorist, Quote Page 80, Thomas B. Noonan & Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link