John Milton vs. Francis Bacon

Today’s topic is about a quote that is often found falsely attributed to John Milton.  It is popular across the internet and in modern books.

The Misattributed Quote

“He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.”
John Milton

The Correct Quote

“A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well.”
Francis Bacon
“Of Revenge”
The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral

The Reliable Version

Please note there are two versions of this quote by Francis Bacon.  The more reliable quote begins with the words “A man that” and is found in the essay “Of Revenge” in the book The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral written by Bacon.  Here is the quote found in the book:

The Quote Found in the Essay “Of Revenge” in the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

The Quote Found in the Essay “Of Revenge” in the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

Here is the title page of the book:

Title Page of the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

Title Page of the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

The Unreliable Version

The quote that begins “He that” was first printed in Baconiana magazine in 1679 under the title Ornamenta Rationalia.  Here is the Baconiana cover page:

Title Page of the 1679 edition of Baconiana Magazine

Title Page of the 1679 edition of Baconiana Magazine

Ornamenta Rationalia is a list of sayings, some made by Bacon and some collected by Bacon from Publius Syrus.  However, it was not expressly written by Bacon but was compiled for the magazine from some of his notes that were collected posthumously.  Here is the title page featuring the publisher’s note:

The Publisher’s Note Found in "Ornamenta Rationalia" Stating It Was Not Expressly Written by Francis Bacon

The Publisher’s Note Found in “Ornamenta Rationalia” Stating It Was Not Expressly Written by Francis Bacon

As the above title page shows, the first part of Ornamenta Rationalia is a collection of sayings from the ancient Latin writer Publius Syrus (correct spelling is Publilius Syrus) which were collected by Bacon.  The second part is a collection of sayings taken from some of Bacon’s writings.  Some of the sentences are verbatim and some are not.  This particular quote is not verbatim as it begins with the words, “He that.”  Here is the quote from Ornamenta Rationalia:

The quote found in "Ornamenta Rationalia." Note the wording is altered, and the second half of the quote is missing.

The quote found in “Ornamenta Rationalia.” Note the wording is altered, and the second half of the quote is missing.

The above excerpt also shows that the latter part of the quote, “which otherwise would heal, and do well,” is deleted.  Since this version was published posthumously and was compiled by someone other than Bacon, it is not the reliable version.  Fortunately, the meaning is not altered by the rewording, but if you’re looking for the exact quote, use the one from the “Of Revenge” essay from the book The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral written by Bacon and published during his life time.

Statistics

Once again, the quote virus is at work spreading infected information across the universe.  After perusing 95 websites featuring this Francis Bacon quote incorrectly attributed to John Milton, here is what I found:

PercentageType of Website
43%    Quotes-only
15%    Discussion forums
15%    Social media
12%    Informational (politics, newspapers, magazines, etc.)
8%     Quotes a major feature
4%     Corporate individuals or companies
2%     Academic/educational
1%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase

As usual, it is the websites specializing in quotes only that make up the largest percentage of misquote offenders.  Hmm . . . there seems to be a pattern here.  If you go back and read all of my previous blog posts, you will see that ALL of them report this same result.  The disturbing thing is that the number of quote websites is growing.  Every three to four months, I notice new quote websites rearing their ugly heads.  After researching quotes for four years, I am very familiar with the names of most of these sites, so when a new one pops up, I spot it immediately.  As a side note, I have noticed that a lot of these sites contain pages that are exact copies of pages from other quote websites, meaning the quotes are in the exact same order featuring the exact same misquotes and the exact same typos.  The bottom line is that a website that specializes in quotes is typically the worst place to get reliable quotes.  This doesn’t make sense, but it seems to be the case.

Contemporary Authors Are Another Source of Misquote Propagation

This misquote is also featured in at least two books of quote collections published in the 21st century.  I also found it in five non-quote books, usually at the beginning of a chapter.

Unfortunately, modern authors use quote websites as a resource to find quotes to include in their books.  So when they inadvertently cite a misquote, their book becomes a new source of quote contamination and helps to perpetuate the spread of this misinformation.

Educators Are Another Source of Misquote Propagation

Some modern-day educators also use quote websites as a resource for quotes to include in their educational literature.  This creates a double jeopardy situation because most people assume if the information is coming from an educator or educational institution, it is accurate.  However, in my research, I have come across misquotes featured on university websites as well as in theses, papers, and books written by professors.  This doesn’t occur often, but it is still disappointing that academic sources like these can contribute to misquote proliferation.

Most Disappointing Find

Another disappointing place where this misquote occurs is on a website offering free books online.  Their John Milton page includes a biography about Milton as well as a list of quotes by him.  Unfortunately, the quote list includes this misquote.  Obviously whoever created this page did not actually read Milton’s books and probably copied the quotes from another source without verifying them.  This is a shame because the overall purpose of this website is meaningful and extremely beneficial; to have a free treasure trove of great literature at your finger tips any time you want it is invaluable.  It is unfortunate that what could be a great educational resource is marred by inaccurate information.

For Sale

Finally, on a lighter note, if you are interested in purchasing flawed merchandise, today’s misquote can be found for sale on the internet.  That’s right folks.  For just $31.95 you can have your own misquote coffee mug.  What a bargain!

Help Kill the Quote Virus

I will conclude with another plea to help stop the madness.  Please share this blog post and/or share my “What You Can Do” page.  Every little bit of shared knowledge makes a difference.

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

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