He has achieved success
who has lived well,
laughed often, and loved much;
who has enjoyed the trust of
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 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.
~ 1904 Bessie Anderson Stanley
According to Bethanne Larson, Bessie Anderson Stanley’s great-grandaughter:
Success was written as the winning entry in a contest run by Brown Book Magazine in 1904. Bessie won a cash prize of $250 which paid off the mortgage on the house, among other things. It was included in Bartlett’s Book of Quotations for decades, and if you can find an old edition from the 30’s or 40’s, it should be in there. They dropped it, I think in the 60’s, but I don’t know why.
The family isn’t sure how the poem got mangled and attributed to Emerson, but it was further confused by Ann Landers and her sister Abby. Ann Landers used to (mis)quote it all the time and cite Emerson as the source. My great-uncle Art, a retired federal judge who died last March , and she had a decade-long correspondence as he argued for a public correction. She finally conceded and in her book, The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, prints the whole story.
In the Spring 2000 edition of the Emerson Society Papers is an article “Emerson’s ‘Success’–Actually, It Is Not”, written by Joel Myerson; the following review by another detective in search of the secret of Success:
It’s short but interesting, as Joel Myerson tracks down the 2nd volume of a book called, Heart Throbs, published in 1911, which contains the Stanley quote, and then a few pages later, a piece by Emerson titled, “Good-Bye.” He concludes that “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.” He doesn’t address how Robert Louis Stevenson might have gotten connected with the quote, however.
Regardless of the confusion over the origins of this poem, the message is inspired and timeless. What is your definition of success?