Verifying the source of a quotation

Subject: Verifying the source of a quotation
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 13:23:17 -0400

A couple of days ago one of the daily joke mailings included a quotation I liked that I was unfamiliar with:

A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.

The attribution was to Joseph Conrad. However, based on a recent thread (maybe it was here but I think it was in a newsgroup), I decided to verify both the wording (suspicious of the misplaced "which") and the source, lest it turn out that it was something being put in the mouth of a character the author was mocking for his pomposity, à la Polonius.

So I went to Google and found that the quote is attributed to Joseph Conrad by some, to Henry Ward Beecher (predating Conrad considerably) by others, to Marcus Aurelius by one source, and to "anonymous" by yet another. Quite a selection for a passage I'd never encountered previously.

Of course, none of these sources actually cited a work--they were all just derivative collections of inspirational quotations.

So, now that I've exhausted Google's sources, short of taking a course in Latin and spending a month at the Bodleian (sp?), what's the best way to go about tracking something like this down?


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