The world doesn’t owe you anything quote is commonly attributed to Mark Twain.
I am talking about this quotation:
“Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first”
By the way, the correct quote is the one above and NOT this:
“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first”
So, don’t go around using this quote anymore.
Believe me, the quote, “Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first” is definitely NOT by Mark Twain.
Yet this popular quote ascribed to Mark Twain is found published all over the place, including newspapers, books, magazines and established websites.
If you don’t believe me, go to Google Images and type in this quote; and you will be stupefied to see the amount of sites attributed it to Mark Twain.
Who Said The World Owes You Nothing?
Again go to Google search and ask, “Who said the world owes you nothing?”
Google will be the first to tell you is Mark Twain.
You don’t need to be brainy to know that this popular wrongly-attributed quote is definitely found in BrainyQuote site.
Yes, you are good at reading my mind, this misattributed quote is also found in GoodReads, as shown below.
In 2014, there was this republished book of Mark Twain’s travel literature, “A Tramp Abroad“.
Strangely it added this line as its subtitle, “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first“. (see below)
It even used the wrongly worded misquote!
You can called it a double whammy.
The World Doesn’t Owe You Anything
So, if the quote is not by the American writer and humorist Mark Twain, then who is the actual author?
The quote is by Robert Jones Burdette.
According to 1949 “Dictionary Of Humorous Quotations“, the quote, “Don’t believe the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing – it was here first” is by Robert Jones Burdette.
(Dictionary Of Humorous Quotations, Edited By Evan Esar, New York: Paperback Library, Inc.,1962, BURDETTE, Robert Jones, 1844-1914, American clergyman, humorous journalist, and lecturer, 1, P. 42) source
It attributed the author, but it never mention the source of the quote.
So is it true, this quotation is by American clergyman, humorous journalist, and lecturer Robert Jones Burdette?
Now, let’s get to the source of this quotation.
As usual, I would include links directly to the sources, together with accompanying images of the quote.
Robert J Burdette Quote The Morris Chronicle January 1883
The earliest source of this quote tracked down by Quotationize, is from a New York newspaper, “The Morris Chronicle” in January 1883.
It was an article (with a snippet of the speech) titled, “Advice to Young Men“, reporting a lecture delivered by Robert J. Burdett in Pittsburgh.
I am as good as good as any other men -but the other fellow isn’t as good as I am. If you men do anything else in the world, get married. If you say you can’t afford it now, it is because you are too selfish and too mean. Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
(The Morris Chronicle, N.Y. Wednesday, January 31, 1883, Column 2, Advice To Young Men, Page 2) source
The quote is also found from the same article published in the “Evening Observer” from Dunkirk, New York, February 1, 1883, column 3 on page 2.
This is another article featuring Burdette’s “Advice To Young Men” published in the “Sunday Tidings” February 4, 1883, column 5, on page 2.
The same quote is also in this article, but with a different content.
“…If I should be anything else than what I am I should be want to be a nail machine. And don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
(Sunday Morning Tidings, February 04, 1883, Encouragement to Poor Young Man, Column 5, Page 2) source
Robert Jones Burdette
For those of you who do not know who Robert Jones Burdette was, here is a short write-up.
Robert J. Burdette was an American humorist and Baptist clergyman.
He joined the The Hawk Eye newspaper in 1872 and started writing his humorous column, “Hawkeyetems of Roaming Robert”
It even went national syndication which made him internationally famous; and brought him friendship with fellow humorists such as Mark Twain, Bill Nye, Henry W. Shaw (Josh Billings) and James Whitcomb Riley.
With his popularity, he toured the country, giving comic lectures.
His first lecture, “The Rise and Fall of the Mustache,” was delivered well over three thousand times during a 30-year period.
Before this “Advise to Young Men” lecture, Bob Burdette had already written different articles using the same “the world doesn’t owe you anything” theme, and they were published under various titles.
This was one of those syndicated articles, titled “To Young Men Who Are Afraid of Working Themselves to Death” by R. J. Burdette in the Burlington Haweye.
The earliest source of this article which I managed to find online is from a Kansas City newspaper in 1879.
This is a summary of the article:
And then remember my son, you have to work. Whether you handle a pick or a pen, a wheelbarrow or a set of books, digging ditches or editing a newspaper, ringing an auction bell or writing funny things, you will see that men…
No, my son, the world does not owe you a living. The world does not need you yet – you need the world…
But don’t fall into the common error of supposing that the world owes you a living.
It doesn’t owe you anything of the kind. The world isn’t responsible for your being. It didn’t send for you, it never asked you to come here, and in no sense is obliged to support you now that you are here…
…it is all here, son disappointments, struggles, success and honors, but the world does not owe you one of them – not one.
When you hear a man say that the world owes him a living, and he is going to have it, make up your mind that he is just making himself a good excuse for stealing a living. The world doesn’t owe any man anything, son…
(The Kansas City Times, Sunday, October 26, 1879, Advice To A Young Man, Burlington Hawkey, Page 5) source
You can read the full article here (third column), but titled as “BURDETTE’s ADVICE“.
So, mark my words, the world doesn’t owe you anything quote is NOT by Mark Twain.