One of the most enduring misattributions of a work to Emerson is that of an inspirational prose passage called “Success” that appears, most often assigned to Emerson if to anyone, on many Web pages. It goes

To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.1

As Joel Myerson demonstrates in “Emerson’s ‘Success’—Actually, it is not,” Emerson Society Papers, 11, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 1, 8, this is not a work by Emerson.

In her 17 November 1990 column, “Dear Abby” (Abigail Van Buren) answered a reader’s question “How would you define success?” with the quote from “my favorite American poet, essayist and philosopher” printed above. However, on 1 February 1992, a chastened Abby printed a letter from Arthur Stanley Harvey, who wrote that the quotation was based on something his grandmother, Bessie Anderson Stanley, had written in 1904, and that had been appropriated for many years by greeting card companies, including Hallmark, which had “erroneously credited Robert Louis Stevenson as the author.” Abby then apologized, and printed what she described as the original from the 1904 Brown Book Magazine:

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.

But more research shows another source. In the September 1904, Joe Mitchell Chapple, publisher of the Boston National Magazine, announced he would give $10,000 for “Heart Throbs,” which he defined as “those things that make us all kin; those things that endure—the classics of our own lives.” The people who sent in the ten best contributions would receive a pile of silver dollars, “one silver dollar placed flat upon the other,” as “will measure your exact height”; other major winners would receive twenty-five, ten, or five dollars; and five hundred lucky people (out of a total of 840 winners) would receive a dollar each. The results from this contest were published in a book, appropriately titled Heart Throbs, but it contained nothing by Stanley.2 Due to the success of this book, a second volume of Heart Throbs was published in 1911, “Contributed by the People,” according to the title page. Unlike the first volume, this one contained “the voluntary contribution of thousands,” including, on the very first page, “What is Success?” by “Bessie A. Stanley.” Significantly, Emerson’s “Good-Bye” is also included (p. 7-8). The proximity of Stanley’s work to Emerson’s suggests that someone might have made the initial misattribution by copying Stanley’s work, then returning to seek the author and mistakenly using Emerson’s name from three leaves later; Stanley’s name appears on the third line of a verso page, Emerson’s on the fifth of a verso page, making such an eyeskip possible.3


1. A popular variation of this reads “To live well, to laugh often, to love much, to gain the respect of intelligent people, to win the love of little children. To fill one’s niche and accomplish one’s task, to leave the world better than one finds it whether by an improved flower, a perfect poem or another life ennobled. to never lack appreciation of earth’s beauty or fail to express it, to always look for the best in others, to give the best one has. To make one’s life an inspiration and one’s memory a benediction. This is success.”

2. Heart Throbs, [ed. Joseph Mitchell Chapple] (Boston: Chapple Publishing Company, 1905), pp. v-vi.

3. Heart Throbs, Volume Two, [ed. Joseph Mitchell Chapple] (Boston: Chapple Publishing Company, 1911), pp. ii, 1-2. Surprisingly, “What is Success” is attributed to “Anon.” in the index.
The text of “What is Success?’ differs in wording from that published by “Dear Abby” as follows:

He . . . much; [‘who has enjoyed the trust of pure women’ not present; ‘who has gained’ present] the respect . . . task [‘who has left the world better than he found it’ not present], whether [‘by’ present] an improved . . soul; [‘who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty, or failed to express it’ present] who has always . . given [‘them’ not present] the best . . . inspiration; [‘and’ present] whose memory a benediction.