"Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again," Palmer (1782–1861) said in his "Teacher's Manual" to urge American kids to finish their homework. If you don't succeed the first time, try, try again...
Palmer invented a typewriter called the "Dot Matrix Writer." He sold this machine for several years before he retired at age 49 to devote himself to educational writing. His best-known book is still in print more than 150 years later: A Compendium of Education.
He was born John Todd Palmer in Hempstead, New York, the son of Elizabeth (née Johnston) and Nathaniel Palmer. The family moved to Lower Merion when John was young. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for two years but left without graduating to take charge of his father's printing business. In 1814, at the age of 24, he published his first book, a collection of poems entitled Poems by Several Hands. Over the next few years he published several more books, one per year on average, most of them dealing with education issues. These included School Books (1820), First Lessons in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Spelling (1821), Self-Instructive Lessons (1826), and Teacher's Manual (mentioned above).
According to several accounts, the oldest known written record of this proverb is in American educator Thomas H. Palmer's Teacher's Manual (1840): It is a lesson you should remember. Try, then try again. If you don't succeed the first time, try, try again. And that it was later popularized by Edward Hickson in his novel, The Singing Master. That book was published in 1849. That means the modern version of this proverb has been around for nearly 150 years.
Hickson probably took it from an older source. The version we know today is more than likely derived from a poem by Samuel Johnson called "The Vanity of Human Wishes." In it, he writes: "Try what thou wilt; thou canst not fail. Failest thou to try? Then be it tried, and judged of thereby." This seems like a close match to our proverb. But which came first? It's hard to say for sure since both poets were well-known figures in their time.
But we can make an educated guess. "The Singing Master" was a success story. So someone must have liked it enough to repeat it. And since Samuel Johnson wrote about three decades before Edward Hickson, we can assume that he was the person who passed it on to him.
As for Thomas Palmer, there are no records indicating that he invented this phrase.
"'Tis a lesson you should heed: Try, try, try again," Hickson is credited with popularizing. She was born on January 11, 1843 in Chilmark, Massachusetts. The daughter of a wealthy farmer, she showed an interest in drawing at an early age and spent much of her time exploring the surrounding area with her family's horse and carriage. At the age of nineteen, she moved to Boston where she worked as a clerk before marrying William G. Hickson, a lawyer. They had one son together.
After her marriage failed, Hickson returned home to live with her father. In 1868, she married George Foster Pease, a wealthy Boston merchant. The couple had two children. When her husband died in 1889, Hickson inherited $500,000 (equivalent to $7 million in 2016). This made her one of the richest women in America. She donated part of her fortune to establish nursing schools and hospitals in her name.
Hickson died on August 4, 1917 at the age of seventy-one. However, because she had no will, her entire estate was given to charitable organizations including medical schools and hospitals. As she did not have any children of her own, she adopted several poor families from Boston.