Quote: By three methods we may learn wisdom (attrib Confucius 1893)

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 7 20:20:58 UTC 2010

On Sun, Nov 7, 2010 at 10:29 AM, Garson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
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> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â Quote: By three methods we may learn wisdom (attrib Confucius
> Â  Â  Â  Â  Â  Â  Â 1893)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Confucius is a quote magnet or flypaper figure in the world of
> aphorisms. I have been asked about a saying attributed to Confucius
> and the earliest cite I have located is dated 1893:
> Cite: 1893, "Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English
> and Foreign Sources", Selected and Compiled by James Wood, Page 34,
> Frederick Warne and Co., London and New York. (Google Books full view)
> By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is
> the noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third, by
> experience, which is the bitterest. Confucius.
> http://books.google.com/books?id=Zf83AAAAIAAJ&q=%22three+methods%22#v=snippet&
> Knowing when an expression crosses over into the English language is
> valuable I think, and the tools I use can help to answer that
> question. But it is a circumscribed form of knowledge. Any feedback
> about this quote from list members would be welcome, e.g., further
> antedatings in English, a possible source text in Chinese, and other
> ideas about how the maxim was constructed. I think this is on topic
> because the saying might be an English proverb or amalgamation in
> disguise.
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

FWIW, a version of Persian(?) origin can be found here:


and elsewhere.

I'm not familiar at all with the "Confucian" version. But, when I was
a first-year student in high school, my English teacher often quoted
something similar to the "Persian" one, though I don't recall that
this Jesuit provided a source beyond "Listen and learn!" or some such.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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