Self-Trust Is the First Secret of Success

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

Portrait of EmersonDear Quote Investigator: Anxiety and self-doubt can sabotage one’s attempts to achieve success. The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said: Self-trust is the first secret of success.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1870 Ralph Waldo Emerson collected a set of his essays under the title “Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters”. The essay on “Success” contained the following advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Self-trust is the first secret of success, the belief that, if you are here, the authorities of the universe put you here, and for cause, or with some task strictly appointed you in your constitution, and so long as you work at that you are well and successful. It by no means consists in rushing prematurely to a showy feat that shall catch the eye and satisfy spectators. It is enough if you work in the right direction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Self-Trust Is the First Secret of Success

Notes:

  1. 1871 (1870 Copyright), Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chapter: Success, Start Page 251, Quote Page 261 and 262, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Finish Every Day and Be Done With It. . . . Some Blunders and Absurdities No Doubt Crept In; Forget Them As Soon As You Can

Ralph Waldo Emerson? James Elliot Cabot? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Each day should be greeted with our optimism and aspirations. We should forgive ourselves for yesterday’s missteps. The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson apparently made this point in a passage that begins with one of the following two phrases:

  • Finish every day and be done with it.
  • Finish each day and be done with it.

Would you please help me to determine precisely what Emerson said and where he said it?

Quote Investigator: Ralph Waldo Emerson died in 1882, and James Elliot Cabot became his literary executor and family-approved biographer. 1 In 1887 Cabot’s biography of Emerson was published as two volumes under the title “A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson”. A section of chapter 13 described Emerson’s methods of childrearing. An advice-filled letter to a daughter was reprinted. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

To one of his daughters who was away from home, at school, he writes:—

Finish every day and be done with it. For manners and for wise living it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. To-morrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.”

Cabot had comprehensive access to Emerson’s papers and the support of his family, so QI believes that the text from the letter is probably accurate.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Finish Every Day and Be Done With It. . . . Some Blunders and Absurdities No Doubt Crept In; Forget Them As Soon As You Can

Notes:

  1. 1983, Studies in the American Renaissance, Arranging the Sibylline Leaves: James Elliot Cabot’s Work as Emerson’s Literary Executor by Nancy Craig Simmon, Start Page 335, End Page 389, Published by Joel Myerson. (JSTOR) link
  2. 1887, A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson by James Elliot Cabot, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter 13: His Ways With His Children, Quote Page 106 and 107, Macmillan and Company, London and New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Fear Defeats More People than Any Other One Thing in the World

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Elbert Hubbard? Napoleon Bonaparte? Dale Carnegie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Self-help books encourage people to act with confidence and assurance because apprehension can block progress. I once read the following motivational statement:

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.

These words were attributed to the famous transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. I am skeptical of the ascription because I have not been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This saying has been ascribed to Emerson, Elbert Hubbard, Napoleon Bonaparte and others. QI has not yet located substantive evidence identifying the creator; he or she remains anonymous. This article presents a snapshot of current research.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for “The Emma Dunn Method of Adult Education” printed in the “Los Angeles Times” in 1936. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

YOU WILL CONQUER FEAR
“Fear defeats more men than any other one thing in the world,” says Elbert Hubbard.

Elbert Hubbard founded a New York artisan community called Roycroft. He was known for creating, collecting, and popularizing adages. However, he died in 1915, and QI has not yet found any direct evidence during his lifetime that he authored this saying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fear Defeats More People than Any Other One Thing in the World

Notes:

  1. 1936 June 3, Los Angeles Times, No High Pressure Salesmanship (Advertisement for The Emma Dunn Method of Adult Education, Hollywood, California), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)

But In Analysing History Do Not Be Too Profound, for Often the Causes Are Quite Superficial

Creator: Ralph Waldo Emerson, prominent American essayist and transcendentalist philosopher

Context: In 1836 when Emerson was 33 years old he wrote in his journal about bloody events in Spain and France. Emphasis added to excerpt: 1

But in analysing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial. In the present state of Spain, in the old state of France, and in general in the reigns of Terror, everywhere, there is no Idea, no Principle. It is all scrambling for bread and money. It is the absence of all profound views; of all principle. It is the triumph of the senses, a total skepticism. They are all down on the floor striving each to pick the pocket, or cut the throat that he may pick the pocket, of the other, and the farthest view the miscreants have is the next tavern or brothel where their plunder may glut them.

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Elisa Gabbert and Brent Gohde who via twitter wondered about the authenticity of this quotation and requested a citation.

Image Notes: Illustration of the execution of Robespierre and his supporters on 28 July 1794. Author unknown. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons from Gallica Digital Library. Image has been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1910, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations, Edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, 1836-1838, Volume 4, Journal Date: Nov. 29, 1836, Age of Ralph Waldo Emerson: 33, Quote Page 160 and 161, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (archive.org) link

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do

Quotation: Always do what you are afraid to do.

Popularizer: Ralph Waldo Emerson (He did not create the adage.)

Context: In 1841 Emerson published the essay “Heroism”, and he recommended a simple maxim to readers for overcoming trepidation. Some fears are justified, and the guidance does not encourage foolish or self-destructive actions. Emerson disclaimed credit for the saying with the phrase “I once heard”: 1

Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, “Always do what you are afraid to do.”

Related Article 01: Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You
Related Article 02: Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Image Notes: Picture of wingsuits; author: Richard Schneider from Los Angeles; CC BY 2.0. Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson circa 1857; via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1841, Essays by R. W. Emerson (Ralph Waldo Emerson), Essay VIII: Heroism, Start Page 247, Quote Page 262, James Fraser, London. (Google Books full view) link

As a Cure for Worrying, Work Is Better Than Whisky

Thomas Edison? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

edison11Dear Quote Investigator: Using alcohol to provide solace when experiencing apprehension is often unwise. The famous inventor and businessman Thomas Edison preferred hard work and reportedly said:

As a cure for worrying, work is better than whisky

Oddly, the same saying has been attributed to the noteworthy thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. Can you resolve this ambiguity?

Quote Investigator: The ascription to Thomas Edison is well-supported, but the linkage to Ralph Waldo Emerson is unsupported.

The March 1929 issue of “Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan” magazine published an interview with Thomas Edison that included his commentary about the difficulties and uncertainties he faced while building his business empire. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“For a good many years I worried about my pay-roll; didn’t always know how I was going to meet it. My trouble has been that I have always had too much ambition and tried to do things that were sometimes financially too big for me. If I had not had so much ambition and had not tried to do so many things I probably would have been happier, but less useful.

“But I have always found, when I was worrying, that the best thing to do was to put my mind upon something, work hard and forget what was troubling me. As a cure for worrying, work is better than whisky. Much better.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading As a Cure for Worrying, Work Is Better Than Whisky

Notes:

  1. 1929 March, Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan, Edison: In an Unusual Talk with Allan L. Benson, Start Page 83, Quote Page 83, Column 2, International Magazine Company, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Interlibrary Loan system)

Sometimes You Eat the Bear, and Sometimes the Bear Eats You

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Sam Elliott? Ethan Coen? Joel Coen? Bertrand W. Sinclair? Carl O. Sauer? Roger Penske? Jim Croce? Preacher Roe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of ursine sayings about the topsy-turvy vicissitudes of life:

1) Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.
2) Sometimes you hunt the bear, and sometimes the bear hunts you.
3) Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.

A version of the first statement was spoken during the 1998 movie “The Big Lebowski” whose screenplay was written by the Coen brothers. Would you please examine the provenance of this family?

Dear Quote Investigator: An interesting precursor was included in an essay titled “Farming” published in an 1870 collection by the influential transcendentalist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. The early human diet included foods derived from plants and animals, but hunting megafauna was a dangerous endeavor. Emerson described a beleaguered primal figure. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He is a poor creature; he scratches with a sharp stick, lives in a cave or a hutch, has no road but the trail of the moose or bear; he lives on their flesh when he can kill one, on roots and fruits when he cannot. He falls, and is lame; he coughs, he has a stitch in his side, he has a fever and chills: when he is hungry, he cannot always kill and eat a bear;—chances of war,—sometimes the bear eats him.

Emerson’s essays were reprinted in many editions during the ensuing decades, and QI believes the passage above probably facilitated the emergence of the modern adage.

Another precursor appeared in an item printed in an Alexandria, Louisiana newspaper in 1894. The two-fold contingent nature of encounters with bears was highlighted: 2

The farmers of this community are about done gathering their crops, and many of them are now in the woods gathering up their hogs. Some of them so engaged a few days ago ran across a bear in Calcasieu swamp so the first question asked now when they return from the swamp is, “Did you get the bear, or did the bear get you?”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sometimes You Eat the Bear, and Sometimes the Bear Eats You

Notes:

  1. 1870, Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay: Farming, Start Page 115, Quote Page 128, Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1894 December 15, The Weekly Town Talk, Shady Grove Items, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Alexandria, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)

What Is History But a Fable Agreed Upon?

Napoléon Bonaparte? Voltaire? Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle? Claude Adrien Helvétius? Wendell Phillips? Ralph Waldo Emerson?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular skeptical viewpoint about history can be expressed in a few different ways:

1) What is history but a fable agreed upon?
2) History is a set of lies agreed upon.
3) History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon.

These cynical adages have been linked to several major figures including: the military and political leader Napoléon Bonaparte, the French philosopher and firebrand Voltaire (pen name of François-Marie Arouet), and the author and wit Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest pertinent evidence known to QI appeared in a 1724 essay about historiography titled “L’Origine des Fables” (“Of the Origin of Fables”) by Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. The French excerpt below from a 1728 collection is followed by a translation into English. Boldface has been added: 1 2

A quel dessein nous l’auroit-on donné pour faux? Quel auroit été cet amour des hommes pour des faussetés manifestes & ridicules, & pourquoi ne dureroit-il plus? Car les Fables des Grecs n’étoient pas comme nos Romans qu’on nous donne pour ce qu’ils sont, & non pas pour des Histoires; il n’y a point d’autres Histoires anciennes que les Fables.

Why would they have bequeathed us a mass of falsehoods? What could this love of men for manifest and ridiculous falsehood, have been, and why did it not last longer? For the Greek fables were not like our novels, which are intended as stories and not as histories; there are no ancient histories other than these fables.

Fontenelle’s comment above provided only a partial match to the saying under examination. He was referring to ancient history and not all history. Nevertheless, prominent figures such as the French philosopher Claude Adrien Helvétius and Voltaire ascribed the adage to Fontenelle. Perhaps Fontenelle wrote or spoke an expression that provided a closer match elsewhere, but QI has not yet located it.

Many years later Napoléon Bonaparte used an instance of the saying, but he disclaimed credit. The transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson also used an instance, but he credited Napoléon. The well-known orator Wendell Phillips employed a version with the word “lies” in 1881. Detailed illustrations for these assertions are given in the chronological citations below.

QI thanks previous researchers on this topic including Fred R. Shapiro, editor of “The Yale Book of Quotations”, Professor William C. Waterhouse, and Barry Popik.

Continue reading What Is History But a Fable Agreed Upon?

Notes:

  1. 1728, Oeuvres Diverses by M. De de Fontenelle, (Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle), Volume 1, De L’Origine des Fables, Start Page 329, Quote Page 329, A La Haye, Chez Gosse & Neaulme. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1961, French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, Selected and edited by Leonard M. Marsak (Leonard Mendes Marsak), The Origin of Myths by Bernard de Fontenelle, Start Page 108, Quote Page 108, Meridian Books: The World Publishing Company, Cleveland, Ohio. (Verified on paper)

I Have Forgotten the Books I Have Read and the Dinners I Have Eaten, But They Both Helped Make Me

Ralph Waldo Emerson? G. B. Emerson? Charles Gordon Ames? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The well-known lecturer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson has been credited with a provocative remark about reading and memory:

I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

I have not found a convincing citation for Emerson. Are these really his words?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found convincing evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke or wrote this statement. He died in 1882, and the earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine” issue of June 1896 within an article about a Harvard Divinity graduate and prominent Unitarian clergyman named William Henry Furness who had died earlier in the year. The piece reviewed the life and accomplishments of Furness who was born in 1802 and attended Harvard in the early 1820s. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Whatever impressions were made on the student’s mind by the courses of instruction, hardly a trace of them appears in his later authorship. Yet this may only imply thorough assimilation; for he can never be classed among those who have gone forth from classic halls to afflict mankind with the bad breath of ill-digested scholarship. “I have forgotten the books I have read,” said Emerson; “and so I have the dinners I have eaten; but they both helped make me.”

The paragraph preceding the passage above mentioned that G. B. Emerson was a tutor at Harvard while Furness was a student. Hence, it was conceivable that the ambiguous term “Emerson” referred G. B. Emerson instead of the better known Ralph Waldo Emerson (R. W. E.). On the other hand, the author of the article, Charles Gordon Ames, used “Emerson” to refer to R. W. E. in a later section. In addition, a quotation from R. W. E. would fit because Furness and he maintained a lifelong friendship that extended back to their days at Boston Latin School.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Have Forgotten the Books I Have Read and the Dinners I Have Eaten, But They Both Helped Make Me

Notes:

  1. 1896 June, The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, Volume 4, Number 16, William Henry Furness by Charles Gordon Ames, (Profile of Harvard graduate William Henry Furness who died January 30, 1896), Start Page 545, Quote Page 546, Published by The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine Association, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Mark Twain? Eleanor Roosevelt? Mary Schmich? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain said something about doing at least one thing each day that you should do despite the fact that it makes you feel uncomfortable. I do not remember precisely how the expression was phrased. Here are two pertinent statements:

Do something every day that you don’t want to do.
Do one thing every day that scares you.

Would you please determine what Twain said?

Quote Investigator: In 1897 Mark Twain released a travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and the fifty-eighth chapter presented the following epigraph. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. So, Twain was the actual creator of the advice given above.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Notes:

  1. 1897, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), (Chapter 58 Epigraph), Quote Page 549, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut; Also Doubleday & McClure Company, New York. (Internet Archive) link