UPDATE: January 12, 2007
Note to Bethanne -- you and I lost touch when you changed your email address shortly after our email exchange. I have received many requests for your current email, and it is usually from press, a writer doing a story for a newspaper.
(I just got another one, today.) If you read this, please get in touch with me!



August 31, 2001

Dear Readers,
One of the oldest pages posted in my site is a poem called "Success" by Bessie Anderson Stanley.

This is a much beloved poem, by myself and many, many others. Over the last four years, I have vigorously defended this poem and the author. I've received dozens of letters claiming that I had attributed the poem to the wrong person. Usually, it is Ralph Waldo Emerson that others claim to have written the poem.

Also, there are numerous versions of this poem floating around but I have steadfastly refused to change the version that I originally printed. I really didn't know the truth behind it, I just always like this version the best!

Yesterday, I received an letter from Bessie Stanley's great-granddaughter, Bethanne Larson. She explained the truth Behind "Success". Bethanne has graciously given me permission to share our emails so that you may also know the "Truth Behind Success".
But first, let's enjoy Bessie's words. Although written in 1904, the content and meaning are just as relevant today.

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.

--1904 Bessie Anderson Stanley

----- Original Message -----
From: Bethanne
To: robin@robinsweb.com
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2001 9:08 PM
Subject: Success Poem

Dear Robin,

I'm so glad Success is on your favorite poems page. It was written by my great-grandmother, Bessie Anderson Stanley.

There are many, many misattributions of her poem to Emerson out there and I just wanted to thank you for quoting it in its entirety and sourcing it accurately.

Bethanne Larson

----- Original Message -----
From: Robin Olson
To: Bethanne
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2001 3:57 PM
Subject: Re: Success Poem

Dear Bethanne,
So Success is a S-U-C-C-E-S-S! This is wonderful news to me, as I have had dozens of people over the last 4 years that page has been up, tell me that I HAD THE POEM WRONG! But I stuck to my guns and THAT version of MY FAVORITE POEM!!!!
Thank you SO MUCH!!! May I have your permission to post this message on that page to end ONCE and FOR ALL the confusion as to the true words of your great-grandmother? I have also seen it attributed to Emerson.

Do you by any chance have a photo of her? I have had so many others write to tell me that it is also their favorite poem, too!

I am thrilled to be honoring her lovely words, and in my opinion, the words were inspired by God. It written nearly one hundred years ago, --yet the words are timeless and true to this day.


----- Original Message -----
From: Bethanne
To: Robin Olson
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2001 2:21 AM
Subject: Re: Success Poem

Dear Robin,

What a lovely note! Of course you can use my email. I also have some references for you if you find yourself needing support in a disagreement.

I do have some pictures of Bessie, but they're with my sister at the moment. We lost my grandmother, Bessie's youngest daughter, this past June and found lots of photos that I had never seen before as we were closing out her house. I'll be sure to scan a good photo for you when I get my copies.

I was named for Bessie (Elisabeth Anne) and my gram always said I look very much like her. She died before I was born, so I never knew her, but the family is unanimous in saying she was the very definition of a warm and wonderful woman. My uncle Gene says she was the perfect grandmother. She was one of those people whose house was always full of guests, family, and neighbors all running in and out. She loved poetry and taking care of people and had a gorgeous iris garden, which was her favorite place.

Success was written as the winning entry in a contest run by Brown Book Magazine in 1904. Bessie won a cash prize of $250 which paid off the mortgage on the house, among other things. It was included in Bartlett's Book of Quotations for decades, and if you can find an old edition from the 30's or 40's, it should be in there. They dropped it, I think in the 60's, but I don't know why.

The family isn't sure how the poem got mangled and attributed to Emerson, but it was further confused by Ann Landers and her sister Abby. Ann Landers used to (mis)quote it all the time and cite Emerson as the source. My great-uncle Art, a retired federal judge who died last March, and she had a decade-long correspondence as he argued for a public correction. She finally conceded and in her book, The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, prints the whole story.

I think it's a beautiful poem, too. From what I've been told about her, it delineates her character perfectly. She lived what she wrote. And in these days, with our obsession for the material going full throttle, it's good to be reminded that true success is not measured in portfolios, stock options, or bank balances.

Thank you again for posting it on your page.


----- Original Message -----
From: Robin Olson
To: Bethanne
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2001 6:21 PM
Subject: Re: Success Poem

Dear Bethanne,
Great-grandma Bessie must be up there pulling strings. She knows she is being misquoted down here and gosh darn it, she wants credit!

Please let me post our WHOLE exchange, as you have offered irrefutable evidence. I LOVE the history behind the poem. "It paid off her mortgage" !!!! Never again will I have to defend her words. I can't tell you how many times people have tried to "correct me". This is wonderful to be able to "give credit where credit is due".

Dear Robin,

I'd be very pleased if you would post our correspondence. Bessie was a special woman and the more people who know that, the better!

I'll send along a photo when I get one.

Take care and have a great holiday!


So, there you have it, once and for all.
The Truth behind "Success!"