[Ads-l] Quote: It is the greatest of all mistakes, to do nothing because you can only do little
adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Feb 1 23:55:56 UTC 2020
Quotation specialist Mardy Grothe asked me to look into the following
saying attributed to Edmund Burke:
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could
do only a little.
I would appreciate any help from fellow list members. Here is a link
to the Quote Investigator article:
I've located no substantive evidence that Burke employed this saying.
He died in 1797, and he received credit by 1981. See further below.
The earliest match I've located appeared in the 1850 book “Elementary
Sketches of Moral Philosophy” by Reverend Sydney Smith. This
posthumous work was based on lectures delivered by Smith at the Royal
Institution of London between 1804 and 1806. The phrasing is
[ref] 1850, Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy: Delivered at the
Royal Institution, in the Years 1804, 1805, and 1806, By the Late Rev.
Sydney Smith, Lecture XIX: On the Conduct of the Understanding - Part
II, Quote Page 290 and 291, Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans,
London. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]
It is the greatest of all mistakes, to do nothing because you can only
do little: but there are men who are always clamouring for immediate
and stupendous effects, and think that virtue and knowledge are to be
increased as a tower or a temple are to be increased, where the growth
of its magnitude can be measured from day to day, and you cannot
approach it without perceiving a fresh pillar, or admiring an added
Here is the 1981 ascription to Burke.
[ref] 1981, As Lambs To The Slaughter: The Facts About Nuclear War by
Paul Rogers, Malcolm Dando, and Peter van den Dungen, Part 4: What Has
To Be Done, Chapter 13: What You Can Do, (Quotation in a box at the
bottom of the page), Quote Page 269, Arrow Books in association with
Ecorpa, London. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
'Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he
could do only a little.'
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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