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Transcendentalists > Emerson > Quotes > Success

Success

Don't miss: Posters on Success

One of the most popular quotations attributed to Emerson but almost certainly is not from Emerson.  Here's the quotation on success and some thoughts on where it might really be from:

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.

--- inaccurately attributed to
 Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote is almost certainly not from Emerson, though it is often attributed to him. I have never been able to find it in any of Emerson's writings, nor has anyone else to my knowledge (and plenty of people have been looking).

As of now, it seems that the quote may be traceable to a 1905 publication by a Bessie Stanley. Apparently, in a collection of quotations on "success," her poem appeared on the facing page from a quotation which was from Emerson. Perhaps the mistaken attribution began when someone copied the source inaccurately from that collection. Here's a 1905 article from the Lincoln Sentinel about that version of the quote: Bessie Stanley's Famous Poem

Bessie Stanley's poem, though, is a bit different from the standard quotation attributed to Emerson -- and so there is still some tiny possibility that the quotation is Emerson's or someone else's and that Stanley's was a variation.  At this time, though, the most dependable attribution would be to Bessie Stanley, with the changes attributable to the normal folk process of adaptation and editing.

If you find an authentic source of the quote (that is, in an actual essay or work by Emerson published before 1905), please with the information so that I may confirm it and post the information!

All that said -- it just does not sound (to me) like Emerson's voice. I leave the decision to you, dear reader, with a link to a page- with some of this information detailed, at Dirk Kelder's Emerson and Thoreau site-.

For a similar story about the popular piece that begins, "If I had my life to live over I would pick more daisies," attributed to a Nadine Stair, see this essay- by Benjamin Rossen.

Emerson did write about success; it is not now online but I hope to add it to the Emerson Central site soon.

Note: If you have javascript enabled, you'll be able to see the link for my email address.  It's hidden to keep the "spam harvest robots" from finding it easily.  if you don't have javascript, see this page to send email.

 

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