There Is Nothing Noble in Being Superior to Some Other Man. The True Nobility Is in Being Superior to Your Previous Self

Ernest Hemingway? W. L. Sheldon? Hindu Proverb? Khryter? Seneca? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A quotation about “true nobility” attributed to the Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway suggests that one should avoid comparing oneself to others. I haven’t been able to find a solid citation. Would you please trace this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899, and the first strong match known to QI appeared a couple years before in 1897. A collection of “Ethical Addresses” included a piece titled “What to Believe: An Ethical Creed” by W. L. Sheldon who was a Lecturer of the Ethical Society of St. Louis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Remember that in the struggle of life it is always possible to turn one kind of defeat into another kind of victory. Try it and see!

Remember that if you cannot realize the ends of your being in one way, you can in another. Realize something! You will have to render an account somehow.

Remember that there is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.

Remember that you show what you are by the way you talk about people.

Remember that, as you grow older, nature’s tendencies are laying their grip upon you. Nature may be on your side when you are young, but against you later on.

In January 1963 “Playboy” magazine published a controversial posthumous article titled “A Man’s Credo” by Ernest Hemingway which included an instance of the adage. However, Hemingway expert Peter L. Hays believes that the luminary did not write the article.

Details are provided further below together with selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is Nothing Noble in Being Superior to Some Other Man. The True Nobility Is in Being Superior to Your Previous Self


  1. 1897 April, Ethical Addresses, Series 4, Number 4, What To Believe: An Ethical Creed by W. L. Sheldon (Lecturer of the Ethical Society of St. Louis), Start Page 57, Quote Page 61, S. Burns Weston, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link

I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Martin Farquhar Tupper? Seneca? Winston Churchill? James A. Garfield? Thomas Dixon? Michel de Montaigne? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone faces difficulties in life; however, the worry-filled anticipation of possible setbacks pointlessly magnifies dangers. A comical statement illuminating this theme has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill:

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

I hope you will be willing to explore this saying. An upbeat perspective suggests that great discoveries await.

Quote Investigator: A version of this quip was ascribed to Mark Twain in a Singapore newspaper in 1923, but Twain died in 1910; hence, this evidence is quite weak. Winston Churchill employed an instance of the saying in 1924, but he attributed the words to an anonymous “old man”. Details for these citations are given further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI was published in 1881. The humorous remark was spoken by President-elect James A. Garfield who was discussing the large number of tasks he would be facing as President. The statement was reported in the Cleveland Leader of Cleveland, Ohio, and the phrasing indicated that Garfield was referencing a saying that was already in circulation: 1

I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened.

Interesting ideational precursors of this expression were used by Seneca the Younger, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Farquhar Tupper.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order which trace the evolution of the sentiment and the saying.

Continue reading I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened


  1. 1881 February 19, Cleveland Leader, The Next President: Visited Yesterday by the Now Popular Governor Murray, Article section header: I Have Got Into A Way, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)