A Stumble Is Not a Fall

Malcolm X? Oprah Winfrey? Haitian Proverb? Portuguese Proverb? Henry Rich? Thomas Fuller? Thomas Dunn English? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While pursuing an objective one may make errors and suffer setbacks, but these impediments to progress are not insurmountable. Here are two versions of an analogical proverb offering encouragement:

  • Stumbling is not falling.
  • A stumble is not a fall.

This saying is been attributed to entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, and activist Malcolm X. It has also been called a Portuguese and Haitian Proverb. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: Malcolm X received credit in the 2000s which is very late. Oprah Winfrey did use the expression during a commencement speech in 2016.

The adage has a very long history. In 1643 Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland made an apologetic official declaration which included a thematically related proverb. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And since I have made an uneven Step, from the Unclearness of my Information, more than from the Unfaithfulness of my Affections or Intentions, I hope it may be look’d upon and consider’d as the Proverb that saith, Whosoever stumbles, and falls not, gets rather than loses ground.

Interestingly, the above saying depicted a stumble positively. Another positive precursor occurred in the 1732 compilation “Gnomologia” edited by Thomas Fuller. The reference included the following four sequential items: 2

423 A stout Heart crushes ill Luck.
424 A Stumble may prevent a Fall.
425 A streight Stick is crooked in the Water.
426 A successful Man loses no Reputation.

The adage above has continued to circulate in books and periodicals up to the present day. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Stumble Is Not a Fall

Notes:

  1. 1692, Historical Collections: The Third Part: Volume 2, Containing the Principal Matters Which Happened from the Meeting of the Parliament November 3, 1640 to the End of the Year, 1644, Licensed: November 11, 1691, Edited by John Rushworth, Declaration made to the Kingdom by Henry Earl of Holland, Date of Declaration: 1643, Start Page 367, Quote Page 368, Printed for Richard Chiswell and Thomas Cockerill, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1732, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Collected by Thomas Fuller, Quote Pages 16, Printed for B. Barker, A. Bettesworth, and C. Hitch, London. (Google Books Full View) link

The Early Bird Catcheth the Worme

William Camden? Thomas Fuller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: People who enjoy waking up early in the morning and going to work cite the following adage:

The early bird gets the worm.

Would you please explore the history of this expression?

Quote Investigator: English historian William Camden published “Remaines Concerning Britaine” in the 17th century, and this adage appeared in the fifth edition in 1636. Here is a contiguous sampling from the list of proverbs. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Thoughts be free from toll.
Trust is the Mother of deceit.
The gray Mare is the better horse.
The lame tongue gets nothing.
The early bird catcheth the worme.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading The Early Bird Catcheth the Worme

Notes:

  1. 1636, Remaines Concerning Britaine: Their Languages, Names, Surnames,… by William Camden, Fifth Impression, Section: Proverbs, Quote Page 307, Printed by Thomas Harper for John Waterson, London. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link

If You Don’t Read the Newspaper You Are Uninformed, If You Do Read the Newspaper You Are Misinformed

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Fuller? Orville Hubbard? Ezra Taft Benson? Apocryphal?

twain11Dear Quote Investigator: A cynical attitude toward the media is widespread today, but this is not a new development. Supposedly, Mark Twain made the following remark:

If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

Are these really the words of the famous humorist?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said this. It is not listed on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1 In addition, QI has been unable find an instance in key compilations like “Mark Twain Speaking” edited by Paul Fatout 2 and “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 3

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a message posted in 2000 to an international discussion system named Usenet within a newsgroup called israel.francophones. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 4

As Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading If You Don’t Read the Newspaper You Are Uninformed, If You Do Read the Newspaper You Are Misinformed

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched December 3, 2016) link
  2. 1976, Mark Twain Speaking, Edited by Paul Fatout, Published by University of Iowa Press, Iowa City. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. November 2, 2000, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: israel.francophones, From: tsip…@my-deja.com, Subject: Reagir/Presse. (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 28, 2016)

They Which Play with the Devils Rattles, Will Be Brought by Degrees to Wield His Sword

Buckminster Fuller? Thomas Fuller? Anonymous?

fuller09Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent inventor and author Buckminster Fuller has been linked to an uncharacteristic quotation:

Those who play with the devil’s toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.

Would you please determine whether he wrote and said this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Buckminster Fuller employed the words above. Instead, QI believes that the expression evolved from a statement written by Thomas Fuller who was an influential English historian and religious figure of the seventeenth century.

In 1642 Thomas Fuller released “The Profane State”, and it included a section about witches. Fuller stated that some individuals initially engaged in witchcraft defensively; they cast spells and charms to shield themselves against the plots and intrigues of adversaries. However, over time they began to wield power offensively and actively assaulted others. The following excerpt contained “floures” which was an alternative spelling of “flowers”. Boldface has been added: 1

She begins at first with doing tricks rather strange then hurtfull: yea some of them are pretty and pleasing. But it is dangerous to gather floures that grow on the banks of the pit of hell, for fear of falling in; yea they which play with the devils rattles, will be brought by degrees to wield his sword, and from making of sport they come to doing of mischief.

The apostrophe in the possessive phrase “devil’s rattles” was missing in the original text. Also, in the modern quotation the phrase was changed to “devil’s toys”.

During the ensuing years the words above were sometimes reprinted with the short ambiguous ascription: “Fuller”. Someone probably misunderstood this ascription and reassigned the words from Thomas Fuller to Buckminster Fuller.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Which Play with the Devils Rattles, Will Be Brought by Degrees to Wield His Sword

Notes:

  1. 1642, The Profane State by Thomas Fuller, The Fifth Book, Chapter 3: The Witch, Start Page 365, Quote Page 367, Printed by Roger Daniel for John Williams, Cambridge, England. (Google Books Full View) link

Either Write Things Worth Reading or Do Things Worth the Writing

Benjamin Franklin? Thomas Fuller? Apocryphal?

franklin15Dear Quote Investigator: If you wish to be remembered by posterity in a literate culture you have two options:

1) Write something that people wish to read.
2) Do something grand that inspires people to write.

The famous statesman Benjamin Franklin has a secure place in history for both of these reasons. Apparently, he crafted a remark that was similar to the one above although he was more eloquent. Would you please locate this adage?

Quote Investigator: Franklin published a series of almanacs in the 1700s that were very popular, and many of the statements that are credited to him today were printed in these almanacs. The pertinent adage appeared in the 1738 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” whose more complete title was “Poor Richard, An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1738, Being the Second after LEAP YEAR.”

The phrases of the expression were interleaved with astronomical facts concerning the month of May 1738. QI has underlined the adage in red in the image below which shows part of Franklin’s book: 1

If you wou’d not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
or do things worth the writing.

franklinworth02

Many of the sayings in the almanacs were not coined by Franklin. He read several contemporary compilations and sometimes selected statements he found interesting. He also rewrote existing adages and even combined sayings.

The core of the adage under investigation appeared earlier in a collection titled “Introductio ad Prudentiam: Or, Directions, Counsels, and Cautions, Tending to Prudent Management of Affairs in Common Life” by Thomas Fuller which was published in 1727. Adage number 686 was the following: 2

If thou wouldest win Immortality of Name, either do things worth the writing, or write things worth the reading.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Either Write Things Worth Reading or Do Things Worth the Writing

Notes:

  1. 1738, Poor Richard, An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1738, Being the Second after Leap Year (Poor Richard’s Almanac), Benjamin Franklin, Month: May, Column: 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Images from Historical Society of Pennsylvania; accessed at rarebookroom.org on April 27, 2016) link
  2. 1731, Introductio ad Prudentiam: Or, Directions, Counsels, and Cautions, Tending to Prudent Management of Affairs in Common Life, Compiled by Thomas Fuller, M.D., Third Edition, Quote Page 40, Saying Number 686, Printed for W. Innys at the West-End of St Paul’s, London. (First edition was published in 1727; the quotation was verified with scans of the 1731 third edition)(HathiTrust) link link