Quote about schooling interfering with education (Grant Allen 1894) (attrib Mark Twain 1907)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Feb 16 12:58:13 UTC 2010

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

This well-known quote is often attributed to Mark Twain. I hypothesize
that the saying was originally crafted and popularized by the science
writer and novelist Grant Allen starting in 1894.

The TwainQuotes website of Barbara Schmidt has a page presenting
Twain's witticisms on education. At the bottom of the webpage a note
about this saying states: "This quote has been attributed to Mark
Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not
be regarded as authentic."


The October 1946 Reader's Digest attributes the maxim to Mark Twain as
noted in the Yale Book of Quotations. The date of the earliest
attribution to Twain that I could locate is 1907. WikiQuote
contributor, Gordonofcartoon, found this fine cite according to the
webpage revision history. The text of the cite appears within an
advertisement for Daisy Air Rifle.

Citation: 1907, The Outing Magazine Advertiser, Volume 50, Page 840
(GB numbering), W. B. Holland. (Google Books full view.)

Mark Twain once said: "Don't let your boy's schooling interfere with
his education."
   That's just another way of saying that you can't make a good man
out of a boy simply by cramming his head full of Latin and Algebra.


Several years before this cite, in 1894, the essayist and novelist
Grant Allen expressed the idea using a very similar formulation.
Indeed, Grant Allen was so enamored with the maxim that schooling
interfered with education that he presented it in an essay and then
restated it within at least three of his novels. The four works are
dated: 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1899.

The name Grant Allen does not appear in the quotation resources that I
examined: Yale Book of Quotations (2006), Oxford Dictionary of
Quotations, (2009), Famous Lines: a Columbia Dictionary of Familiar
Quotations (1997), Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), The Quote
Verifier (2006), Barry Popik's website, WikiQuote, and the ADS list
archive.  Yet, some instances of Grant Allen's sayings have not been
forgotten by academic experts as I discuss later in this post.

Citation: 1894, Post-Prandial Philosophy by Grant Allen, Page 129,
Chatto & Windus, London.  (Google Books full view.)

One year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three
at Oxford; and six months in the fields with a platyscopic lens would
teach them strange things about the world around them that all the
long terms at Harrow and Winchester have failed to discover to them.
But that would involve some trouble to the teacher.
   What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our
boys' schooling interfere with their education!


The preface to the "Post-Prandial Philosophy" essay collection states:
"These Essays appeared originally in The Westminster Gazette and have
only been so far modified here as is necessary for purposes of volume
publication." Therefore, perusing the Westminster Gazette should yield
an earlier publication date for this cite.

Citation: 1895, The Woman Who Did by Grant Allen, Page 15, Roberts
Bros., Boston.  (Google Books full view.)

So I wouldn't stop at Girton, partly because I felt the life was
one-sided , - our girls thought and talked of nothing else on earth
except Herodotus, trigonometry, and the higher culture, - but partly
also because I wouldn't be dependent on any man, not even my own
father. It left me freer to act and think as I would. So I threw
Girton overboard, and came up to live in London."
   "I see," Alan replied. "You wouldn't let your schooling interfere
with your education."


Citation: 1896, Under Sealed Orders by Grant Allen, Page 28, New
Amsterdam Book Co., New York. (Google Books full view.)

That was what Mr. Hayward meant by 'not allowing his schooling to
interfere with his education.' The boy had learnt most and learned
best in his holidays.


Citation: 1899, Rosalba: the Story of Her Development by Olive Pratt
Rayner (pseudonym of Grant Allen), Page 101, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New
York.  (Google Books full view.)

No schooling was allowed to interfere with my education.


Wikipedia has a page about Grant Allen noting that he died in 1899.
After his death a memoir by Edward Clodd was published that portrays
Allen's life. Clodd claims that the quote about schooling is one of
Allen's "original axioms".

Citation: 1900, Grant Allen: A Memoir by Edward Clodd, Page 53 and
Page 108, Grant Richards, London. (Google Books full view.)

One of his original axioms, full of suggestion, and with the 'soupcon'
of paradox wherewith so much that he said was flavoured, was, 'You
must never let schooling interfere with education' (see 'Eye versus
Ear,' in 'Post-Prandial Philosophy,' p 129). ...
   Of course, you know how Grant Allen used to deplore the fact that
young people, even those with the so-called highest advantages, are
brought up to know next to nothing of the natural marvels that
surround them; and he used to get laughed at for saying, 'What a
misfortune it is we should let our boys' schooling interfere with
their education!'


A magazine article written a short time after Allen's death credits
him with the maxim.

Citation: 1901 October, The New Illustrated magazine (English
Illustrated magazine), "Outdoor School at Haworth" by Keighley
Snowden, Page 491, Macmillan and Co., London.

In that charming book, "Eyes and No Eyes," Grant Allen said that one
should "never let schooling interfere with education," so off they go
bird-nesting and botanising, getting on terms with Nature.


I was unable to locate a book by Grant Allen titled "Eyes and No
Eyes"; however, there is a didactic short story by that name that
appears in a multi-volume collection of children's stories by John
Aikin and Anna Laetitia Barbauld. But this topic is beyond the scope
of our post.

The contemporary ubiquitous association of the quote with the name of
Mark Twain seems to have largely obliterated the previous connection
to Grant Allen. However, after locating the citations above, I
searched within recent specialized works about Allen and discovered
that some academics are aware of Allen's sayings concerning schooling
and education. Below are three recent citations that refer to Allen's
sayings on this topic. It follows that credit for maintaining the link
between Allen and the maxim goes to these scholars and perhaps
predecessors. None of the works mention Mark Twain and the version of
the quote commonly attributed to him.

The first cite discusses Herminia who is a character in Allen's best
known novel, The Woman Who Did.

Citation: 2000, Grant Allen: the Downward Path which Leads to Fiction
by Barbara Arnett Melchiori, Bulzoni, Rome. (Google Books snippet view

In her refusal to let her schooling interfere with her education,
Herminia explains that she left Cambridge for London where she
supported herself by teaching in a girl's school and doing literary
hack-work  for newspapers.


The second recent cite appears in an academic work assessing the
career of Allen. Each chapter is written by a separate author, and the
chapter written by Chris Nottingham contains an extensive quote from
the 1894 essay by Allen.

Citation: 2005, Literature and Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siecle
edited by William Greenslade and Terence Rodgers, Chapter 7: Grant
Allen and the New Politics by Chris Nottingham, Page 98, Ashgate
Publishing, Ltd. (Google Books limited view.)

In another essay Allen maintained the attack on formal education: 'one
year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three at
Oxford; and six months in the fields with a platyscopic lens would
teach them strange things about the world about them then all the long
terms at Harrow and Winchester.' 'What a misfortune,' he lamented,
'that we should ... let our boys' schooling interfere with their


The third cite appears in an online biography of Grant Allen by Peter
Morton that is titled "The Busiest Man in England". Morton describes
Allen's views on education as follows:

Later on, Grant Allen was fond of warning parents not to let their
children's schooling get in the way of their education, but a warm
study and a book-laden desk must have figured largely in his own


In conclusion, Grant Allen wrote "No schooling was allowed to
interfere with my education" in a variety of permutations. I think he
originated the saying and attempted to popularize it; however, the
maxim was reassigned to Mark Twain. This conclusion is tentative
because antedatings are still possible, e.g., an earlier quote by Mark
Twain or someone else may be found.


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

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