Eleanor Roosevelt? Confucius? Chinese Proverb? william L. Watkinson? E. Pomeroy Cutler? James Keller? Oliver Wendell Holmes? Adlai Stevenson? john F. Kennedy? Charles Schulz?

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Dear Quote Investigator: ns love the focus on constructive activity in the following saying:

It is much better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

You are watching: Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness

These words have been attributed come Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, and also several various other people. What execute you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest appearance located by QI emerged in a 1907 collection titled “The can be fried Conquest and also Other Sermons preached in America” by william L. Watkinson. A sermon title “The Invincible Strategy” downplayed the value of verbal assaults on undesirable behaviors and championed the importance of performing an excellent works. Emphasis included to excerpts through QI: 1

But denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than great works, and proves a well-known temptation. However is that far far better to light the candle 보다 to curse the darkness.

In September 1907 Watkinson’s sermon “The Invincible Strategy” to be reprinted in a periodical called “China’s Millions” i m sorry was released by a good news Christian missionary society based in China. 2

Thus, the expression was disseminated to a group of civilization in China. Nowadays, the words are sometimes ascribed to Confucius or labeled a Chinese proverb, however QI has not uncovered compelling proof to assistance that assignment.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.In 1911 a book of biblical commentary titled “The good Texts that the Bible” published a contempt rephrased version of the expression and credited Watkinson in a footnote: 3

Yet it is far far better to irradiate the candle than to curse the darkness.22 W. L. Watkinson

In 1925 the adage continued to circulate in the spiritual sphere. “The Brooklyn daily Eagle” of brand-new York reported on a sermon Reverend E. Pomeroy Cutler to be planning come deliver. The saying to be presented together an anonymous proverb: 4

“As the key thread of my sermon,” stated Mr. Cutler. “I am taking a quotation indigenous the extra-canonical functions of Estras: ‘I shall irradiate a candle of understanding in your heart, i m sorry shall no be placed out,’ and also a proverb: ‘It is much better to irradiate a candle than to curse the dark.’

In 1938 “The Waterloo Press” of Waterloo, Indiana published a filler item the matched the contemporary saying with an anonymous label: 5

It is far better to irradiate a candle than to curse the darkness.—Anon.

In 1940 Dr. Bruce R. Baxter, chairman of Willamette university in Salem, Oregon to work the saying while addressing a graduating class. The indigenous were attached to a well known Chinese sage: 6

In questioning for a “vision of mind rather than the of the eyes,” Dr. Baxter quoted Confucius come the seniors: “It is far better to irradiate a candle 보다 curse in darkness.”

In 1945 a “Questions Answered” shaft in “The Hartford Courant” implausibly attributed Oliver Wendell Holmes; no specification because that Jr. Or Sr. To be given: 7

Q. Who stated “It is better to irradiate a candle 보다 to curse the darkness?” B.KA. Oliver Wendell Holmes is the author of the saying.

In June 1946 “The new York Times” published a request v a garbled variation of the speak in the “Queries and also Answers” section: 8

F. H. S. Desires the identity of this line, more than likely from Lowell, Whittier or Holmes: “Light a candle prior to you enter and also curse darkness.”

Two weeks later on “The new York Times” printed a response from a correspondent. Unfortunately, the answer appeared to be inaccurate: 9

DOROTHY U. TROUBETZKOY, West Hartford, Conn.: F. H. S. (June 9) can have in psychic the old Chinese proverb of Confucius, “It is better to light a candle 보다 to curse the darkness.” it is quite likely that it has been quoted or adjusted by poets wherein your correspondent may have actually seen it.

In 1948 a Catholic periodical disputed a new book titled “You Can adjust the World” by dad James Keller who was the founder that the Christophers religious movement. The speak under investigation was the motto of the movement: 10

As a Maryknoller, father Keller is complete of oriental lore. He has actually a answer to those that think they can not stir up enough vision to be part of his Christ-bearer plan. The is one old Chinese proverb—“Better to irradiate one candle 보다 to curse the darkness.”

In 1960 john F. Kennedy provided an instance in his accept speech after receiving the Presidential nomination of the democratic Party: 11

We space not here to curse the darkness, however to irradiate the candle the can guide us thru that darkness come a safe and also sane future.

In 1962 former very first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt died. Plenty of statements of worship were printed from she admirers. Adlai Stevenson offered the candle expression in his plaudit. Thus, she was attached to the saying: 12

Adlai E. Stevenson, United states representative come the united Nations, said: “Like so countless others. I have actually lost much more than a lover friend. I have actually lost one inspiration. She would quite light a candle 보다 curse the darkness, and also her glow has warmed the world.”

In 1965 “Proverbs, Epigrams, Aphorisms, Sayings, and Bon Mots” through Jacob M. Braude consisted of this entry: 13

Better to irradiate one candle 보다 to curse the darkness.—Chinese

In September 1965 Charles M. Schulz released a “Peanuts” comic piece in i m sorry Linus told Charlie Brown around the saying: “Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”. The last two panels of the 4 panel strip revealed the Lucy stood up to the indict of the adage: 14

In conclusion, QI tentatively credits william L. Watkinson with crafting this expression. His sermon released in 1907 assisted to popularize the saying. The publication in “China’s Millions” expected that Chinese missionaries to be exposed to the adage. That can explain why that was later assigned a Chinese origin. The attribution to Confucius is at this time unsupported.

Image Notes: Candle cradled in two hands indigenous Myriams-Fotos at Pixabay.

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(Great thanks to Chad Copeland who inquiry led QI to formulate this question and continue this exploration. Thanks to discussant Randy Alexander. Also, many thanks to the “The Yale publication of Quotations” edited by Fred Shapiro and also “The Quote Verifier” through Ralph Keyes both that which listed the Adlai Stevenson citation and other beneficial citations. The 1907 quote is now noted in “The thesaurus of modern Proverbs”. Plenty of thanks to Jonathan Caws-Elwitt that pointed to the instance in the “Peanuts” comic strip.)

Update History: On march 24, 2017 the excerpt from the 1965 comic strip was added.