Saturday, February 24, 2007

Success: Finding a Gem among the Litter in the Literature

One of my favorite bloggers, Pam Slim, wrote a great post recently titled, “Finding grace in the throes of gut-wrenching failure.” I thought Pam's choice to use the word grace was a stroke of genius when writing about dealing with failure so I left a comment on her blog along with a well known quote defining “What is success” that I had heard before, and which I quickly located on the web to include with my comment. The problem was the reference that I found misattributed the quote to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and because I didn’t cross reference the source, I further propagated this error. Shortly thereafter, I realized my error, and started looking to confirm the real author. My search was aided by two helpful reference librarians, one from my home town of Barrington, RI and the other at Providence Public Library.

We were quickly able to confirm that the quote was properly attributed to Bessie Anderson Stanley of Lincoln, Nebraska* by Ralph Keyes the author of the Quote Verifier, Who said what where and when, published by St. Martin's Griffin, NY in 2006. My local reference librarian tells me that Ralph Keyes is considered a very reliable source. According to Keyes, Bessie Stanley was awarded a $250 prize for her definition of success in contest sponsored by Brown book Magazine of Boston, circa 1904. (* See Post Script)

My curiosity grew when I read online that Bessie Stanley’s granddaughter, Bethanne Larson had written to Robin Olsen of indicating that the poem appeared in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in the 1930’s but had been removed for some unknown reason by the 1960’s editions. I tried unsuccessfully to locate a 1930’s copy of Bartlett’s, but I learned that the quote had been re-published in 1911 in a book called Heart Throbs, Volume 2, which is a collection of verse and prose submitted by readers in response to an earlier edition published in 1905. Volume 2 was published by Grosset & Dunlap of New York and copyrighted in 1911 by Chapple Publishing Company Ltd. of Boston, MA.

I'm able to provide images from this collection because my contact at the Providence Public Library Reference Desk found a copy of Volume 2 in the stacks, right next to volume 1; although the second volume wasn’t listed in their computerized card catalog.

Bessie Stanley’s “What is Success? is the second entry in this collection of 840 selections and begins on page 1, with the last two lines flowing over to the second page. I’m please to provide here several images from the 1911 text.

page 1.

One final ironic twist is that in the index, of Heart Throbs Volume 2, the author of What is Success is listed as Anon (short for Anonymous)!

From this I re-learned the importance of confirming references, and was reminded how much fun it is to go to the library. The Providence Public Library located a fairly old book in their collection that they didn't know they had.



Post Script added March 23, 2007. Greg Williams of the Tampa Tribune was kind enough to comment on this post. He pointing out to me that Bessie Anderson Stanley actually lived in Lincoln. Kansas, not Lincoln, Nebraska as is written above. My first reaction was that I had probably mistakenly written Nebraska when I read Lincoln. Lincoln, NB stuck in my mind because I visited the city for a conference back in my college days. It was my first flight on a commercial airliner, from Boston to Lincoln, NB. I think it was in 1978 or 1979, but that's another story. At any rate, I went back and checked the Quote Verifier, and sure enough, Ralph Keyes had in fact written Lincoln, NB, as you can see in the following image. Greg has obtained copies of the original publication of "Success" by Bessie A. Stanley in the Lincoln Sentinel Lincoln ,Kansas . Greg and I traded several emails with some of the details about how difficult it is to track down what really happened, and when.

It would be very interesting to see if someone can turn up the original magazine article. Here is a site containing an online history of Brown Book Magazine which merged with Modern Women around the time of publication of Bessie A. Stanley's writing on Success. The URL's below provide some some cover images.

I think its possible that an old library, has copies of the original magazine. The history of Brown Book company also suggests that copies may be located at the Library of Congress.



1 comment:

Greg Williams said...

Chuck: Dirk Kelder sent me a link to your article about Bessie Stanley's essay about success. I had been in touch with Dirk while doing my own research, so he knew I'd be interested in what you've posted. As you've discovered, misinformation about the essay is rampant on the Web (for example, Bessie lived in Lincoln, Kansas, not Nebraska), but the confusion can't be blamed entirely on computers. With the assistance of another helpful librarian, I've tracked down two versions of the essay that were published in 1905. The wording of the two versions differs, however, and neither version matches what you found in Heart Throbs, what was published in Bartlett's, what was quoted by Dear Abby and Ann Landers, or what was inscribed on Bessie's gravestone. (Since the arrival of the Internet, things have gotten even more convoluted, of course - as many people have mistyped and misattributed the essay inadvertently, and others have "improved" the wording to match their own needs: "She has achieved success ...")
Greg Williams
The Tampa Tribune