I am just back from a fun-filled birthday weekend celebrating our good friend Henry David Thoreau.
As part of the festivities, I suggested we post some of our favorite HDT quotes. Who knew HDT’s words of wisdom have been “tweaked,” if you will, over the years?
Yesterday, I received a comment from Jeffrey Cramer, author and editor of multiple publications on Henry David Thoreau, so he is quite the expert. He stated that some of the quotes we (‘we’ includes me) mentioned were actually misquotes. He directed me to a source where I could find the correct quotes, so we won’t misuse them again.
Misquotation: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
The first half of this quotation is a misquotation from Thoreau’s Walden:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
The second half of this quotation is mis-attributed to Thoreau and may be a misquotation or misremembering of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ (1809-1894) “The Voiceless”:
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them.
That is really nice, but we kind of like this one, submitted by DJ from NC:
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their grave, unable to find that damn screwdriver.”
We think HDT would have approved. 😉
Here’s another HDT misquote making the rounds:
Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.
Misattribution. By the poet, novelist and editor, John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-1890). Although the words appear as above in several collections of quotations and axioms, the line should read “Be true to your word and your work and your friend” as published in his poem, “Rules of the Road” in The Life of John Boyle O’Reilly by James Jeffrey Roche, together with his complete poems and speeches edited by Mrs. John Boyle O’Reilly (New York: Cassell Publishing Co., 1891) p. 533:
Be silent and safe — silence never betrays you;
Be true to your word and your work and your friend;
Put least trust in him who is foremost to praise you,
Nor judge of a road till it draw to the end.
Very many thanks to Mr. Cramer for stopping by Suffragette Kitty and helping us correct the mis-quotes. We have many good points we want to get across here, the last thing we want to do is pass along misinformation.
p.s. Guess what? Remember that horrible billboard in Bethesda, MD, that I mentioned a few weeks ago? It’s been taken down!!! Good work, all.