The road to hell is paved with good intentions

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The road to hell is paved with good intentions is an idiom or proverb.[1] It is about the difference between what someone intends to do and what they actually do. In other words, the road to failure is made easier by good intentions.[2]

History[change | edit source]

In the mid-12th century, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs" (hell is full of good wishes and desires). [3] The sentence has been repeated many times in other languages and contexts.

In 1775, Samuel Johnson commented on "the unhappy failure of pious resolves" when he is reported saying, "Sir, hell is paved with good intentions."[4]

Select examples[change | edit source]

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  • 1631: George Herbert wrote in Jacula Prudentum, "Hell is full of good meanings and wishings."[4]
  • 1825: Walter Scott wrote in a letter to Miss Joauna Baillie, "I well intended to have written from Ireland, but alas! as some stern old divine says, " Hell is paved with good intentions" ... and so all my epistolary good intentions are gone to Macadamise, I suppose, "the burning marle" of the infernul regions."[4]
  • 1857: George John Whyte-Melville wrote in The Interpreter, "... if hell be paved with good intentions, it might be roofed with lost opportunities."[5]
  • 1942: C. S. Lewis explained in The Screwtape Letters, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”[6]

Related pages[change | edit source]

References[change | edit source]

  1. Brown, Marshall. (1905). Wit and humor of well-known quotations, p. 121; excerpt, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" ... [and it] "is the only place of which we ever heard that is. Generally paving is done with the intention of cheating the city."—Boston Post.
  2. White, William. (1897). Notes and queries, Vol. 95, p. 499.
  3. Amer, Christine. (1997). The American Heritage dictionary of idioms, p. 542.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Pell, Robert Conger. (1857). Milledulcia: a thousand pleasant things selected from "Notes and queries", pp. 89-90; excerpt, "The last editor, Croker, adds :—Johnson's phrase has become so proverbial, that it may seem rather late to ask what it means—why 'paved'? "
  5. Whyte-Melville, George John. (1857). The Interpreter: a Tale of the War, Vol. 1, p. 100.
  6. Lewis , C. S. (1942). "Letter #12, The Danger of the Slippery Slope to Nothingness," The Screwtape Letters, p. 61.