Why do we say "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again"?

Well-Known Expressions

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again

Meaning:

Keep trying, and you will succeed

Background:

Many sources say that the first known written record of this proverb is in American educator Thomas H Palmer's Teacher's Manual (1840):

'Tis a lesson you should heed,
Try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try again.

And that Edward Hickson later popularized it in his book The Singing Master. But if sources are correct, The Singing Master was published in 1836, placing it earlier than Palmer's work.

Either way, it seems there is agreement that it was Edward Hickson who popularized the adage through his moral song, the full lyrics of which are:

'Tis a lesson you should heed–
Try again;
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try again.
Then your courage should appear;
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear,
Try again.

Once or twice though you should fail,
If you would at last prevail,
Try again.
If we strive, 'tis no disgrace
Though we did not win the race–
What should you do in that case?
Try again.

If you find your task is hard.
Try again;
Time will bring you your reward,
Try again;
All that other folk can do,
Why with patience should not you?
Only keep this rule in view,
Try again.

Some say that the essence of the expression has its roots long before this date, pointing to Robert 1 of Scotland (Robert the Bruce), a 14th century king who, the legend says, having suffered a major defeat at the hands of the English, went into hiding in a cave near Gretna (close to the border of Scotland and England). While there he watched a spider trying to spin a web. Each time the spider failed, it simply started again. The story goes that Robert was so inspired by the little arachnid that he left the cave and returned to lead his troops in a series of victories against the English.

Alphabetical list of expressions

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.25 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: We Had to Remove This Post
    We Had to Remove This Post
    by Hanna Bervoets
    It's not about money. Kayleigh, the protagonist and narrator of We Had to Remove This Post, a newly ...
  • Book Jacket: River of the Gods
    River of the Gods
    by Candice Millard
    The Nile River has provided vital resources for millennia, serving as a source of water, food and ...
  • Book Jacket: Horse
    Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Geraldine Brooks creates a powerful backstory for 19th-century thoroughbred racehorse Lexington, ...
  • Book Jacket: Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
    Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
    by Alison Espach
    Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance will make you ache for a loss you didn't experience as you relate...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Hamnet
by Maggie O'Farrell
"Of all the stories...about Shakespeare’s life, [Hamnet] is so gorgeously written that it transports you."
The Boston Globe

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lies I Tell
    by Julie Clark

    The new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight!

  • Book Jacket

    Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden
    by Zhuqing Li

    A beautifully woven family memoir that coalesces into a vivid history of two very different Chinas.

Win This Book!
Win Where the Crawdads Sing

Win a signed copy of Where the Crawdads Sing

In celebration of the movie release on July 15, we have three signed copies to give away.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T O Thing W H T F I F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.