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

Dear Quote Investigator: i love the focus on constructive action in the adhering to saying:

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

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

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

Quote Investigator: The faster appearance located by QI occurred in a 1907 arsenal titled “The can be fried Conquest and Other Sermons preached in America” by william L. Watkinson. A sermon titled “The Invincible Strategy” downplayed the worth of verbal attacks on undesirable behaviors and also championed the importance of performing great works. Emphasis included to excerpts through QI: 1

But denunciatory rhetoric is so lot easier and cheaper than an excellent works, and proves a renowned temptation. However is it far better to irradiate the candle than to curse the darkness.

In September 1907 Watkinson’s sermon “The Invincible Strategy” to be reprinted in a periodical dubbed “China’s Millions” which was published by a protestant Christian missionary culture based in China. 2

Thus, the expression to be disseminated to a team of people in China. Nowadays, the native are periodically ascribed come Confucius or labeling a Chinese proverb, however QI has actually not found compelling evidence to support that assignment.

Below are extr selected citations in chronological order.In 1911 a publication of biblical commentary title “The good Texts the the Bible” printed a slightly rephrased variation of the expression and credited Watkinson in a footnote: 3

Yet that is far far better to irradiate the candle 보다 to curse the darkness.22 W. L. Watkinson

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

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

In 1938 “The Waterloo Press” the Waterloo, Indiana printed a filler item that matched the modern-day saying v an anonymous label: 5

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

In 1940 Dr. Bruce R. Baxter, president of Willamette college in Salem, Oregon to work the speak while addressing a graduating class. The indigenous were connected to a famed Chinese sage: 6

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

In 1945 a “Questions Answered” column in “The Hartford Courant” implausibly credited Oliver Wendell Holmes; no specification for Jr. Or Sr. Was given: 7

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

In June 1946 “The new York Times” printed a request through a garbled variation of the saying in the “Queries and also Answers” section: 8

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

Two weeks later on “The brand-new York Times” published a an answer from a correspondent. Unfortunately, the answer showed up to it is in 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 irradiate a candle 보다 to curse the darkness.” it is quite likely that it has been quoted or adapted by poets wherein your correspondent may have actually seen it.

In 1948 a Catholic periodical debated a brand-new book titled “You Can readjust the World” by father James Keller that was the founder of the Christophers spiritual movement. The speak under investigation was the motto the the movement: 10

As a Maryknoller, dad Keller is complete of eastern lore. He has a answer to those who think they can not stir up enough vision to be component of his Christ-bearer plan. It is an old Chinese proverb—“Better to light one candle 보다 to curse the darkness.”

In 1960 man F. Kennedy provided an instance in his acceptance speech after receiving the Presidential nomination that the autonomous Party: 11

We space not here to curse the darkness, yet to irradiate the candle the can overview us thru that darkness to a safe and sane future.

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

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

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

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

In September 1965 Charles M. Schulz released a “Peanuts” comic strip in i m sorry Linus said Charlie Brown about the saying: “Better to irradiate a single candle than to curse the darkness”. The last two panels the the 4 panel piece revealed the Lucy resisted the guidance of the adage: 14

In conclusion, QI tentatively credits wilhelm L. Watkinson with crafting this expression. His sermon published in 1907 assisted to popularize the saying. The publishing in “China’s Millions” expected that Chinese missionaries to be exposed come 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 in ~ Pixabay.

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

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