Mark Twain? Humphry Davy? Robert G. Ingersoll? Cato the Elder? Hugh M‘Neile? Cassius Marcellus Clay? Thomas Fuller?
Question for Quote Investigator: A person of great merit may not receive any recognition while an unworthy person may receive numerous accolades. This perverse disconnection has inspired the following ethical stance:
It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.
This notion has been attributed to famous U.S. humorist Mark Twain, prominent U.S. orator Robert G. Ingersoll, and noteworthy British chemist Humphry Davy. Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI occurred in the writings of electrochemist Sir Humphry Davy who died in 1829. His brother John Davy published “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Humphry Davy” in 1836. This work contained excerpts from letters and notes penned by Humphry. Here were three items from him. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1836, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Humphry Davy by His Brother John Davy, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter 2, Quote Page 68, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, London. (Google Books Full View) link
“It is better to deserve honours and not to have them, than to have them and not deserve them.”
“Pride makes men entertaining only to themselves: vanity makes them entertaining to others.”
“Science, unlike literature, is independent of taste or caprice.”
Based on current evidence, Humphry Davy authored this quotation. Robert G. Ingersoll employed an instance during a speech on 1899, and Mark Twain wrote it in one of his notebooks in 1902 after it was already in circulation.
Additional detailed information is available in the article on the Medium website which is available here.
Image Notes: Public domain illustration of “The Fidelity Medallion”, a commemorative U.S. military award created in 1780. Picture from “The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution” in 1851.
Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Luther Mckinnon, Paul’s Jokes, and Ralph Nelson Willett whose twitter thread and inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Guy Gavriel Kay who pointed out the relevance of the remark ascribed to Cato the Elder.