Proverb: Give a man a fish versus teach a man to fish (antedating variants starting in 1885)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 6 14:45:40 UTC 2010

Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and
he will eat for a lifetime.

This proverb was discussed by Fred Shapiro at the excellent Quotes
Uncovered NYT blog yesterday. The instances can be grouped into
clusters. Here are some early examples of three basic variants
starting in 1885.

Cite: 1885, "Mrs Dymond" by "Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Richmond Ritchie)"
aka Anne Isabella Ritchie, Page 342, Smith, Elder, & Co., London.
(Google Books full view)

'He certainly doesn't practise his precepts, but I suppose the Patron
meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If
you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn. But these very
elementary principles are apt to clash with the leisure of the
cultivated classes.'

The quote also appeared in an excerpt of the book "Mrs. Dymond" that
was published in "Macmillan's Magazine" in 1885 August. The excerpt
was republished in "Littell's Living Age" on 1885 September 5.

Cite: 1885 August, Macmillan's Magazine, "Mrs. Dymond: Chapter XX:
Almsgiving", Page 246, Volume 52, Macmillan and Co, London and New
York. (Google Books full view)

Cite: 1911, The Common Growth by M. Loane, Page 139, Longmans, Green &
Co, New York. (Google Books full view)

It is an oft-quoted saying, and one full of social wisdom: "Give a man
a fish, and he will be hungry again to-morrow; teach him to catch a
fish, and he will be richer all his life."

Cite: 1962 October 23, Winnipeg Free Press, "New Threat: Hunger", Page
18, Column 6, Winnipeg, Manitoba. (NewspaperArchive)

As a fitting motto for the Committee's work, Miss Speers quoted a
Chinese proverb: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day-if
you teach him to fish, you feed him for many days."


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