The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page -> Apocrypha -> The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions


The road to hell is paved with good intentions.


Although many people believe that Samuel Johnson said "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," he shouldn't get credit for this one.

Johnson said something close, but he was following in others' footsteps. In Boswell's Life of Johnson, in an entry marked April 14, 1775, Boswell quotes Johnson as saying (on some other occasion), "Hell is paved with good intentions." Note, no prefatory "the road to..." Boswell's editor, Malone, added a footnote indicating this is a 'proverbial sentence,' and quoting an earlier 1651 source (yet still not in the common wording).

Robert Wilson, in the newsgroup alt.quotations, provided two other sources prior to Johnson. John Ray, in 1670, cited as a proverb "Hell is paved with good intentions." Even earlier than that, it's been attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), as "Hell is full of good intentions or desires." Just how it got to the road to Hell being paved this way, and not Hell itself, I don't know.

For more of what Johnson is thought to have said, but didn't, see the Apocrypha page.

For more of what he did say, see either the Sampler of Popular Quotes or the Topical Guide.