Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, October 12, 2015

Follow up on the Longfellow Quote

In a recent blog post, I referenced a quote attributed to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He reportedly wrote, "It takes less time to do a thing right than to explain why you did it wrong." This quote appears with the reference to Longfellow in over 2000 website references using a Google search. Normally, when I quote anything, I spend the time to verify the original and cite the original. To my surprise, this particular quote does not appear anywhere in any Longfellow source. After an exhaustive search online in websites, books and through in libraries, I cannot find any connection between this quote an anything written by Longfellow, the poet. In fact, the statement does not sound like Longfellow's writings or other quotes.

A commentator made the suggestion to search in books here in the Brigham Young University Library. So, since I am writing this in the Library this evening, I took time to go to the section with books of quotes. I looked through about ten of them. Including these two very comprehensive books:

Bartlett, John, and Justin Kaplan. Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002.

Partington, Angela. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Oxford: Oxford university press, 1996.

Not only was there no reference in the section of each for Longfellow, the quote itself was not in any of the books I looked at. 

At this point, my search is over. As far as I am concerned, the statement is a modern one attributed to Longfellow with no real connection whatsoever.

Now, this should be an important lesson for every researcher, genealogical or otherwise, check your original sources. You just may find that a widely accepted fact is actually false. 

1 comment:

  1. I actually found a 1956 newspaper article that attributed it to Longfellow (which tells us only that it's a very *old* misattribution).