Who Wrote, What Is Success?     26 June, 2012, 02:52 pm
Although Ralph Waldo Emerson had a lot to say on the subject of "success," he did not write the essay that begins, "He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;" Bessie A. Stanley wrote it for a contest sponsored by Brown Book Magazine, in 1904. Asked to define "What Is Success or What Constitutes Success?" in 100 words or less, Stanley wrote:


He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much, who has gained the respect of intelligent men, the trust of pure women 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 by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul, who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it, who has looked for the best in others and given them the best he had, whose life was inspiration, whose memory a benediction.


Bessie A. Stanley, Tombstone

This is the text of Stanley's essay as it appears on her tombstone. The contest winners were announced in the December, 1905 issue of Modern Women (Brown Book Magazine had merged with Modern Women ), and Stanley won the first prize of $250 for her essay; however, the essay itself was not published in the issue. A draft of Stanley's essay was published in the Lincoln Sentinel, November 30, 1905, which varies somewhat from the tombstone text:


He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished this task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; 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."


According to an article in the Lincoln Republican, December 21, 1905, Stanley had won considerable notoriety; "her name and her essay had already been published in a large proportion of the newspapers of Kansas, as well as in papers of other states."


When National Magazine encouraged Americans to submit their favorite writings, "Real heart throbs – those things that make us all kin; those things that endure – the classics of our own lives… a clipping, a story, an anecdote, or a selection that touched your heart," Stanley's essay was included in Heart Throbs, Volume II (or More Heart Throbs), published by Grosset & Dunlap by arrangement with Chapple Publishing Company, Ltd., in 1911. Stanley's essay, "What Is Success?" was published on page one, offering a third version of her essay:


He has achieved success, who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty, or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was in inspiration and whose memory a benediction.


These are the three earliest versions of Stanley's essay. The tombstone version mentions "the trust of pure women," while the other two do not. "Who has left the world better than he found it" appears in the tombstone version and Lincoln Sentinel draft, but not in the Heart Throbs, Volume II version. The Lincoln Sentinel draft includes always before "looked for the best in others," while the other two do not. The Heart Throbs, Volume II version changed the order of some phrases and added an "and" before the last phrase. These changes were just the beginning, and before too long Stanley's essay became misattributed to Harry Emerson Fosdick, Robert Louis Stevenson, and most often, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Stanley's essay in Heart Throbs, Volume II, begins on page one; the last two lines are at the top of page two. At the top of page eight are the last four lines of another poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is possible the misattribution began there.


Emerson did write an entire essay, titled "Success," published in Society and Solitude. He lectured on success, wrote letters about success, and recorded his thoughts on success in his journal. I have recently completed a new piece using one of my favorites form Emerson's Journal, May 17, 1840:


"Success depends on the Aim, not on the means. Look at the mark, not on your arrow."



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