Quotes Uncovered: Did Emerson Define Success?

Nine weeks ago, I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Scores of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, one or two per week.

Debi asked:

I have the following quote in a frame and it’s attributed to Emerson, but I’ve since learned that probably isn’t accurate. Could you provide more details?

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following under Bessie A. Stanley:

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory is a benediction.”

Quoted in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 11th edition (1937). [It was] often said to be by Ralph Waldo Emerson and to be titled “Success.” In fact, however, it was written in 1905 by Stanley and was the first-prize winner in a contest sponsored by the magazine Modern Women. Anthony W. Shipps wrote in Notes and Queries in 1976: “The versions printed in the two local newspapers in 1905 do not agree, and in the many later appearances in print which I have seen, the wording has varied somewhat. However, the essayist’s son, Judge Arthur J. Stanley Jr., of Leavenwroth, writes me that the correct text is the one given in the 11th edition (1937) of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.”

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


In an alternate world, with anti-particles could it have been W C Fields?


I have seen a couple of different individuals credited for:

"Luck is when preparation meets opportunity."

"Dream as if you would live forever, dance like nobody is watching, and love like you've never been hurt."

It is interesting how quotations can be attributed to different people along their lifespan. Many times a public figure falls in love with the quote and almost represents it and in turn, becomes affiliated with it.

Alex Roberts

"There is no such thing as a free lunch."


Skydivers are big on the quote, "When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward."

It's most often attributed to da Vinci but that's thought to be inaccurate. Any ideas?


"I swear upon Zeus that an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler"


"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." Attributed to Margaret Thatcher. Wondering if that is accurate before I start referencing it. Thanks.

Joe Allen

I've heard some dispute over the origin of the phrase, "In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity." Some claim it was St. Augustine, but I want to know for sure.

Eric M. Jones

Fred you're falling behind.

You still haven't offered any authorative source for my:

"Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Oh wait...! I get it, I am insane for posting the same quote over and over and expecting any result! Clever...

Feeling Other than Science minded

Dear Dr. Jones;

Yes, Emerson did correctly define success, For it is all true of my late mother, Jean Goldstein, Tao Yin . I am so sad. As for insanity, in so far as I did get the same results and different results each time, I guess one could say that it was and is worth the effort to finish off this "longitudinal study" and experiment in "Recalling Sociology, Rethinking Social science" if for no other reason than to honor both my father and my mother.

Your friend,

Robyn Goldstein (copyright 2009)

Don Davis

10-15 years ago, I saw a signature line in a newsgroup post:
"Success breeds cleverness; failure breeds wisdom."
I like this line a lot, and I've tried to find out who originally
wrote it, without success.


I've seen the following around a fair amount:
"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle."

I've seen it attributed to Einstein, but I would like a source, or to find out where it's really from.


#7--it was one of the "Church Fathers" but I don't believe it was St. Augustine. It was used as the title of a lecture by Catholic theologian Richard Gaillardetz a while back (L.A. Religious Education Congress--2004) so if you need to know you could try looking up his published works for the reference.


The version I heard of the saying Saumya mentioned was the following:
"Work like you don't need them oney, dance like no-one is watching, and love like you'll never get hurt."

Though I doubt it was coined by anyone noteworthy, someone vary clever (and sarcastic) came up with:

"Work like no-one is watching, dance like it hurts, and love like you need the money."

B Hansen

I've been searching for the source for this one for a while:

"The best way to learn about any topic is to write a book about it"

Barry Popik

#6--The Margaret Thatcher "problem with socialism" quotation is from 1975, phrased a little differently. Google Books appears to show a similar quotation made in Parliamentary Debate in 1944.



#8, wasn't that Einstein?

Eric M. Jones

#16 "... wasn't that Einstein?
— dp"

“Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Almost certainly not. The extremely prolific writer Rita Mae Brown is a far better choice. My guess is that it might never have been "published". That is, it might have been a line in a theatrical work, which could make it very hard to find.


Any help would be appreciated on the following

"Success is when preparation meets opportunity"
and its first cousin
"Luck is when preparation meets opportunity"

I prefer the former myself. Success seems more tangible to me.

Ann O'Connor

I emailed you about the quote"ask not what youcan do for your country,etc." and mentioned that it was attributed to John F. Kennedy. what I meant to say was that Kennedy did say it in an innauguration speech but Kalil said it first.

John Frum

#17 It's often attributed to Einstein, but that was probably originally falsely done to lend the weight of authority, with the additional implication of intellectual heft. Essentially an argument against tenacity and perseverance, it's neither the sort of pithy aphorism of which Einstein was fond, nor even intelligent.