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An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin with the Word "IF"
If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will
In 1911, the American writer and publisher Elbert Hubbard—best known as the author of the inspirational story "A Message to Garcia"—aroused controversy when he suggested that he was the original author of a popular American sentiment:
If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.
Quotation researchers were quickly on the case and discovered that, in an 1855 journal entry, Ralph Waldo Emerson had written something similar: "If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods." You will notice, though, that there is no mention of a mousetrap.
In 1889, seven years after Emerson's death, two California women, Sarah Yule and Mary Keene, compiled a book of quotations, titled it Borrowings, and arranged for the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco to publish it. The book attributed the mousetrap observation—exactly as it appears above—to Emerson. In 1912, a year after Hubbard's claim of authorship, Sarah Rule said that she heard Emerson make the remark in an 1871 lecture he delivered in San Francisco. She was sixteen at the time and had attempted to faithfully record the observation in a notebook. We'll never knowwith certainty how Emerson phrased the thought, but it is generally agreed that Emerson, and not Hubbard, was the sentiment's original author. The saying enjoys exalted status in the world of quotations—a classic homage to American ingenuity. As often happens with quotations, it got simplified over time and most people today are familiar with this more streamlined version:
If a man can make a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to his door.Ifferisms
An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin with the Word "IF". Copyright © by Mardy Grothe. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.