As that late, great statesman Ronnie Reagan once said of the Internet, "Trust, but verify."
OK, Reagan had Alzheimer's by the time the World Wide Web became a reality, so it's doubtful he was even aware of it. He was actually referring to an entity from ancient history known as "the Soviet Union," which you can read all about on Wikipedia, but be careful - you can't believe everything online.
I found that out (again) when I used a quote, attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, in my last column. It appeared on a card for Bill Cassin, whose memorial service I attended. Nice passage about what it takes to live a successful life, beginning with "To laugh often and love much ..."
Two days later I was more than a bit confused when I attended a memorial service for Fr. Frank Jenks at Ascension Church. On the back of the program was a lovely quote, attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson, that began, "He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much ..."
Holy cow! Did one of those renowned authors plagiarize from the other? Since I virtually venerate Emerson, that would be particularly troubling.
So I delved further into the unreliable Internet (which has become our primary research tool nonetheless) and discovered (at www.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Sui-Generis/Emerson/Success) that the likely author of the passage was one Bessie Anderson Stanley, who was either the first-prize winner in a contest sponsored by Modern Women magazine in 1905, the winning entry in a contest run by Brown Book Magazine in 1904, or the first-prize winner in a contest ("What Constitutes Success") sponsored by the Lincoln Sentinel, which published her piece on Nov. 30, 1905.
On the Web, facts are like Jello.
Turns out, the poem is inscribed on Bessie Stanley's gravestone in Lincoln, Kan., although I haven't verified that.
Though you can find different versions, this one appears to be the most authentic:
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 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.
Presuming Bessie is the original author, the poem is a solid summary of success (though I like the phrasing better in the version erroneously attributed to Emerson that I ran in my column last week).
This whole thing reminds me of the "Always wear sunscreen" commencement speech, attributed to Kurt Vonnegut but actually written by the Chicago Tribune's Mary Schmich that made the rounds on the Internet a few years back.
We don't know much about Bessie Stanley - at any rate, there's not much about her online - but I presume she led a successful life a century ago in Lincoln, Kan. Certainly her poem was a success.
And here's a bonus correction for those who have been attributing the following quote by author Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love) to Nelson
Mandela's 1994 inauguration speech:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Something tells me Nelson Mandela would agree with this, even though he didn't write it.