FACT CHECK: Did John Dryden Say, ‘We First Make Our Habits, And Then Our Habits Make Us’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook alleges English poet John Dryden once said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”

Verdict: False

There is no evidence that Dryden ever said or wrote this expression.

Fact Check:

Dryden was a 17th-century English poet, playwright and literary critic. He wrote nearly 30 comedies, tragedies and dramatic operas and, in 1668, was appointed England’s first poet laureate.

The Daily Caller News Foundation searched a collection of Dryden’s complete works but found no evidence he ever said or wrote the quote attributed to him in the Facebook post. (RELATED: Did Sinclair Lewis Say, ‘When Fascism Comes To America, It Will Be Wrapped In The Flag And Carrying A Cross’?)

“I certainly don’t recognize that anywhere among Dryden’s verse lines, nor is it like any of his (rare) prose bon mots,” said David Haley, a University of Minnesota English professor with expertise in Dryden’s work, in an email to the DCNF. “Whoever attributed this trite antithesis — it’s actually a chiasmus — to Dryden must have been thinking of some 18th-century moralist or a subsequent politician.”

The website Quote Investigator found the earliest strong match for the quote in an 1888 book by religious writer Frederick Langbridge, in which he wrote, “We are our own potters; for our habits make us, and we made our habits.” However, elements of the expression appeared before this instance, according to Quote Investigator.

Another early instance can be found in theologian Tryon Edwards’s 1891 compilation of quotes. It appears, unattributed, directly above another quote ascribed to Dryden, and it’s possible that readers mistakenly linked the alleged saying to Dryden due to its proximity to the other quotation, according to Quote Investigator.

While there is no evidence that Dryden authored the saying attributed to him in the Facebook post, he did write a line about habits in his translation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” that reads, “Ill Habits gather by unseen degrees, As Brooks make Rivers, Rivers run to Seas.”

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter
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