A Friend Is a Present You Give Yourself

Robert Louis Stevenson? Betsy Patterson? Harry B. Brockett? Walter Winchell? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: Living a full and happy life is facilitated by maintaining a network of steadfast friendships. Here are three versions of a germane adage:

  • A friend is a present you give yourself.
  • A friend is a gift you give yourself.
  • A friend is a gift you give to yourself.

This saying has been attributed to the famous adventure and horror novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, but I have been unable to locate a citation. What do you think?

Quote investigator: QI has been unable to locate substantive evidence ascribing this statement to Robert Louis Stevenson who died in 1894. He received credit by 1946 which is very late. See the citations presented further below.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in a column by Betsy Patterson published in “The Baltimore Sun” of Maryland in 1917. Patterson presented a verse and stated that “these lines run through my head”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“A friend is a present you give yourself,”
Says a charming old-time song.
So I put you down with the best of them,
For that is where you belong.
Among the gifts I have given to me,
Most comforting, tried and true,
The one that I oftenest think about
Is the gift of myself to you.

The starting lines suggest that the adage appeared in an earlier song although QI has not yet found such a song. It is also possible that there is no earlier song, and the lines were included to evoke nostalgia. The creator of the adage was not identified.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Friend Is a Present You Give Yourself


  1. 1917 June 10, The Baltimore Sun, Betsy Patterson’s Chatter: A Weekly Chronicle of Colorful Phases of the Social Life of the City, Quote Page 8, Column 1, Baltimore, Maryland. (Newspapers_com)

It Is Perhaps a More Fortunate Destiny To Have a Taste for Collecting Shells Than To Be Born a Millionaire

Robert Louis Stevenson? Florence Davies? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson is best known for his famous novels, e.g., “Treasure Island” and “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. He believed that an individual should be invigorated by desires, interests, and aspirations otherwise he or she will lead a blank life. Stevenson gave shell collecting as an example of a worthy interest. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In the spring of 1879 Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a few draft chapters for a projected treatise on ethics; however, he never completed the treatise. Stevenson died in 1894, and a multi-volume set containing “The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson” was published during the ensuing years. The unrevised draft chapters appeared in volume four in 1896 under the title “Lay Morals”. The following excerpt criticized idle rich people and complimented shell collecting. Emphasis added the excerpts by QI: 1

But money is only a means; it presupposes a man to use it. The rich can go where he pleases, but perhaps please himself nowhere. He can buy a library or visit the whole world, but perhaps has neither patience to read nor intelligence to see. The table may be loaded and the appetite wanting ; the purse may be full, and the heart empty. He may have gained the world and lost himself; and with all his wealth around him, in a great house and spacious and beautiful demesne, he may live as blank a life as any tattered ditcher.

Without an appetite, without an aspiration, void of appreciation, bankrupt of desire and hope, there, in his great house, let him sit and look upon his fingers. It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire. Although neither is to be despised, it is always better policy to learn an interest than to make a thousand pounds; for the money will soon be spent, or perhaps you may feel no joy in spending it; but the interest remains imperishable and ever new.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Perhaps a More Fortunate Destiny To Have a Taste for Collecting Shells Than To Be Born a Millionaire


  1. 1896, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Miscellanies, Volume 4, Lay Morals, Start Page 313, Quote Page 360, Printed by T. and A. Constable for Longmans Green and Company, Sold by Chatto and Windus, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written

Dorothy Parker? George R. R. Martin? Frank Norris? Robert Louis Stevenson? Cornelia Otis Skinner? Clive Barnes? Gloria Steinem? Hedley Donovan?

Dear Quote Investigator: Writing is an arduous task for many skilled authors. There is a popular family of sayings that contrasts the elation of accomplishment with the struggle of composition:

1) I hate to write, but I love having written.
2) I loathe writing, but I love having written.
3) Don’t like to write, but like having written.
4) I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.
5) Writers don’t like writing — they like having written.

Fantasy and science fiction author George R. R. Martin whose books are the basis for the celebrated “Game of Thrones” television series apparently employed this saying. Famous wit Dorothy Parker is also sometimes credited with the remark? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: George R. R. Martin did use an instance of this expression during a 2011 interview, and the details are given further below. However, QI has found no substantive linkage to Dorothy Parker.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a Minnesota journal named “The Bellman” which acknowledged another periodical called “Detroit Saturday Night”. The novelist Frank Norris was recognized for his works “The Octopus: A Story of California” and “The Pit: A Story of Chicago”. In 1915, a decade after his death, a letter written by him was discovered and published. Norris described his work habits as a writer, and the following excerpt contained an instance of the saying under investigation: 1

I write with great difficulty, but have managed somehow to accomplish 40 short stories (all published in fugitive fashion) and five novels within the last three years, and a lot of special unsigned articles. Believe my forte is the novel. Don’t like to write, but like having written. Hate the effort of driving pen from line to line, work only three hours a day, but work every day.

Believe in blunt, crude Anglo-Saxon words. Sometimes spend half an hour trying to get just the right combination of one-half dozen words. Never rewrite stuff; do all hard work at first writing, only revise—very lightly—in typewritten copy.

These words of Norris were widely disseminated by multiple news outlets in 1915 and 1916, e.g., “The Racine Journal News” of Wisconsin, 2 “The Charleroi Mail” of Pennsylvania, 3 and “The Chicago Tribune” of Illinois. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written


  1. 1915 December 4, The Bellman, Volume 19, The Bellman’s Book Plate, The Writing Grind, (Acknowledgement to Detroit Saturday Night), Start Page 642, Quote Page 643, Column 1, Published by The Bellman Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1915 December 17, Racine Journal News, How One Novelist Wrote, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Racine, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1916 January 11, Charleroi Mail, How One Novelist Wrote, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Charleroi, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1916 February 13, Chicago Tribune, Tabloid Book Review by Fanny Butcher, Quote Page G4, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)