The quote: “The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it” is NOT by Ralph Waldo Emerson!
This is another popular quote wrongly attributed to the American essayist, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
You just google and you can see practically every one and every site, credited this quotation to Emerson.
Note: Another common variation or translation of this quote is: “The wages of a good deed is to have done it”.
(This quote is also found in: Essays: Second Series By Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ticknor And Fields, 1860, New England Reformist, Lecture At Amory Hall; p.273)
There is no reference in the books, stating that this quote is taken from another source.
So people will assume this short line must be by Emerson himself.
Surprisingly, even the authoritative quotation dictionary “The Yale Book of Quotations” by Fred R. Shapiro also stated that this particular quote is by Emerson.
Thing Done Well Is Not To Misquote Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now, let’s clear the confusion.
(Journals And Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume V 1835-1838 By Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edited By Merton M. Sealts, Jr., The Belknap Press Of Harvard University Press, 1965, Journal C, 3 February, 1837; p.285)
At the bottom of the same page, it cited that, it is an extract from Seneca; which is also quoted by Montaigne in one of his essays titled “Of Glory”.
You can see the quote “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it” is stated at the bottom of page.
It is because it is written in Latin, that reads: “Recte facti, fecisse merces est“.
Note: As this line is also found in Montaigne’s essay, there are folks who attributed this quote to the French philosopher as well!
As you can see above, the line is quoted from: (Seneca, Ep.8).
(Ep. is short for epistle).
From my own research, I found some other editions of Essays Of Montaigne, also stated that this line by Seneca is found in Ep.8.
The correct citation should be Ep.81:20.
I did find the the 2004 edition of The Complete Essays By Michel Montaigne has the correct citation.
It is: “The reward for acting properly is to have done so”.
You can find this original Latin quote “Recte facti, fecisse merces est“ from the book “Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales Vol.2” by Seneca.
(Seneca Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales With English Translation By Richard Mott Gummere, Ph. D., In Three Volumes, Vol. II, London : W. Heinemann ; New York : G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1920, Epistle LXXXI, 20; p.230)
In conclusion, the quote “The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it” is NOT by Ralph Waldo Emerson or Michel de Montaigne.
It should be credited to Seneca aka Seneca The Younger. His full name is Lucius Annaeus Seneca.