Quotes Uncovered: If at First…

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research.

Les Hankes asked:

I have tried to find the origin of the following without success: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” Thanks if you find something.

According to that estimable reference work, The Yale Book of Quotations, this comes from John Greenleaf Whittier‘s poem “Maud Muller” (1854).

Canada Kid asked:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” or any variation of that. I read it in a fictional book about the prairie and midwest, in the 1800s. I thought something like that was older, maybe Shakespearian time.


The YBQ cites this as follows:

Thomas H. Palmer, Quoted in The Village Reader (1840). The identical words, except with “try, try, try again,” appear in a poem titled “Perseverance; or, Try Again,” printed in Common School Assistant, Aug. 1838. No author is identified.

W. C. Fields is attributed the variant, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

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  1. Charlotte says:

    I prefer the Kurt Vonnegut version of the first quote:

    Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘it might have been’

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  2. St. Kitt says:

    “I love taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

    ~ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes??

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  3. FK says:

    Grew up with these from my Mom:
    “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
    “Leave well enough, alone.”
    Also,
    “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” – a favorite of my grandma Sylvia – her reasoning of why you don’t sleep with a man before marriage!

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  4. Mack says:

    I’ve used the phrase “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they’re not”, without any thought to where it came from.

    But recently I saw it attributed to Yogi Berra. That can’t be true… can it?

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  5. jim bouman says:

    “Knowledge maketh a bloody entrance”

    I always thought it was the Bard. Not so. But, who?

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  6. Dan says:

    Penny wise, pound foolish.

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  7. Josh says:

    You know, there’s riots going on while we ponder the origins of quotes: http://www.philstockworld.com/2011/01/27/inflationary-thursday-dow-15000-5-will-get-you-a-happy-meal/

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  8. Shane says:

    This is a bit of a long shot because it’s not exactly famous. I’m sure I read many years ago the quote:

    “One live patriot is worth a whole cemetary of dead ones.”

    - Or words to that effect. I THINK it might have been Irish nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell, chastising the violent revolutionary movements, but I’m not sure. Thanks!

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