Quotation research: a man should plant a tree in his life, build a house and father a son

Quotation research: a man should plant a tree in his life, build a house and father a son


FALSE QUOTES with evidence and comments. Hundreds of wrong quotes, memes, cuckoo quotes, citation puzzles, apocryphal, problematic and distorted quotes, misquotations, misattributed and fake quotes. (The collection is constantly being expanded.) By GERALD KRIEGHOFER.

Saturday April 21, 2018

"A man should plant a tree in his life, build a house and father a son." Martin Luther (allegedly)

The old adage is sometimes attributed to Martin Luther, among others, but has not been found in his writings.

The origin of the proverb is in two sources: in the Babylonian Talmud and in Montesquieu’s letter novel "Persian letters".

Babylonian Talmud, tract Sota

  • "Our Rabbanan taught: ‘Who built, who planted, who engaged.’ The Torah thus teaches a rule of life that the People first build a house, plant a vineyard and only then take a woman."
    Talmud, tract Sota VIII Fol. 44a, translated by Lazarus Goldschmidt, pp. 152f. (4016f.) (Link)
  • "Our Rabbis taught: [The order of the phrases is] ‘that hath built’, ‘that hath planted’, ‘that hath betrothed’. The Torah has thus taught a rule of conduct: that a man should build a house, plant a vineyard and then marry a wife."
    Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah Folio 44a (Link)

Montesquieu: "Persian letters"

Montesquieu’s letter novel "Persian letters" is a collection of 161 letters about the fictional Persian travelers USBEK and RICA from Isfahan during their stay in Europe from 1711 to 1720.

The correspondence is about the foreign, Muslim-oriental view of the Christian society in Europe, it is about love, freedom, vanity, religion, inquisition, marriage and harem problems, kings and parliaments.

The entertaining correspondence, published anonymously in Amsterdam in 1721, touched a nerve of the times and, thanks to various translations throughout Europe, became one of the great bestsellers of the Enlightenment.

  • USBEK, Paris to RICA:

    "The fact that the ancient kings of Persia had so many subjects was due only to the doctrine of the religion of the magicians, which were the most pleasing acts of men: to father a child, to cultivate a field and to plant a tree."

    Persian Letters, 119th Letter, Paris, 4th of the Moon Rhamazan 1718 (Link)


    "Les anciens rois de Perse n’avoient tant de milliers de sujets qu’à cause de ce dogme de la religion des mages, que les actes les plus agréables à Dieu que les hommes pussent faire, c’étoit de faire and enfant, laborer and champ, et planter and arbre."

    "Lettres persanes", Lettre CXX, De Paris, le 4 de la lune de Rhamazan 1718 (Link)

  • USBEK to the same:

"The ancient kings of Persia had such an immense number of subjects, simply because of that dogma of the Magian religion which declares that the deeds of men most acceptable to God are to beget a child, to till a field, and to plant a tree."

"The Persian Letters", Letter 120 (link); (Link)
 The saying was spread in England by David Hume, for example, in Germany by a letter from Heinrich von Kleist explaining to his fiancée Wilhelmine von Zenge that he would like to live according to this wisdom and buy a farm in Switzerland. (His fiancee was not enthusiastic about this plan.)

  • "To plant a tree, to cultivate a field, to beget children; meritorious acts, according to the religion of Zoroaster."
    David Hume: An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding
    , 1748 (link)

  • " There was a religious law among the Persian magicians: a man could do nothing more pleasing to the deity than this, to cultivate a field, to plant a tree and to father a child. I call that wisdom, and no truth has penetrated my soul as deeply as this."
    Heinrich von Kleist to Wilhelmine von Zenge, Paris, October 10, 1801 (Link)

In America, the saying from Montesquieu’s ‘Persian Letters’ was soon changed: 1758 came as the fourth point "to load a ship" In addition, in 1793 a man was to plant trees, build a house and father a child, and also write a book. The author no longer remembered where he had read the saying.


  • "That article in the • religion of the Magi, that the most pleasing actions to God which man could do, was to get a child, to manure a field, and to plant a tree; and we may add a fourth axiom, to load a ship."
    New American Magazine in Newspaper Extracts (I) 4200, Four Things necessary to make a man T51 (Link)


  • "It is said by somebody (I forget who) that 4 things are necessary to make a man: 1. That he should plant a tree. 2. That he should write a book. 3. That he should get a child. 4. That he should build a house."
    Belknap Papers 2.330, Four Things necessary to make a man T51 (Link)


  • "The Talmud (a Jewish collection of teachings) says a person should do three things in the course of life: have a child, plant a tree, and write a book." (Link)


  • "The Chinese say that you have to have a child, plant a tree, and write a book, in order to have fulfilled your life."


  • "It was José Martí who said that to be a man you have to have a child, plant a tree, and write a book. (Link)

The proverb is now common in a number of variants and is always falsified by Chinese, Picasso and a few others, without citing sources.
Bartlett Jere Whiting: "Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases", The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Ma / London: 1977, T51, p. 434 (Link)
Lazarus Goldschm >Volume VI, no year., "The tract Sota. From the adultery suspect", Sota VIII Fol. 44a, pp. 152f. (4016f.) (Link)
"Montesquieu’s Persian Letters". German by Adolf Strodtmann. Introduction by Adolf Stern, publisher of Albert Eichhoff, Berlin: 1866, p. 217 (Link)
David Hume: "Essays. Moral, Political, and Literary". Edited by T.H. Green and T.H. Grose, Longmans, Green, and Co., London: 1875, p. 177

Article in progress.
The information provided by Wikipedia authors was once again very helpful.

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