‘another brick in the wall’: meanings and origin

The phrase another brick in the wall and its variants denote:
– a small component of a much larger structure, system or process;
– an insignificant individual within a large population or community.

Although this phrase is commonly associated with Another Brick in the Wall, the title of a three-part composition by the British band Pink Floyd in their 1979 rock opera The Wall, another brick in the wall and its variants have been used since the 19th century.

The earliest occurrence that I have found is from Born to Sorrow, an unsigned novel published in several London magazines in 1867, for example in The New Monthly Belle Assemblée: A Magazine of Literature and Fashion—context: Grantley and his wife, Ella, are drifting apart:

He sent a note to Ella not to wait dinner for him, as he had met some old friends, and they wouldn’t hear of his deserting them at once. When she got the note I am afraid she said something very naughty about these horrid clubs; but, as she had to go out that evening, she thought no more about it. It was only another brick in the wall of separation.

 

OTHER EARLY OCCURRENCES OF THE PHRASE:

 

IN AMERICAN ENGLISH:

 

1-: The phrase another brick out of the wall occurs in Foreign Record, published in The Israelite: Devoted to Literature, Religion, History, and News (Cincinnati, Ohio) of Friday 23rd September 1870:

Whenever shipmates or sailors had to pass an examination at the Prussian marine school they were required to produce a certificate from the parish in which they were baptised, and since Jewish applicants could not produce such “Baptismal Certificates,” they were necessarily excluded from joining the Royal Navy in any capacity whatever. A decree dated the 30th of July, has appeared in the official “Staats-Anzeiger” * according to which no “Baptismal Certificates” are henceforwarded to asked of the sailors or mates who desire to join the Royal Navy. All that is required of them is a paper attesting their exact age and locality of their birth, in which no reference to the religion of the applicants is to be made. This decree removes another brick out of the “wall of separation.”

* The Königlich Preußischer Staats-Anzeiger (Royal Prussian State-Gazette – 1851-1871) was the official press organ of the state of Prussia.

2-: With allusion to the Great Wall of China: in the account of a debate, in the Senate of North Carolina, on “a bill to levy a tax of five hundred dollars on persons engaged in hiring or employing laborers to go beyond the limits of the State”—account published in the Goldsboro Messenger (Goldsboro, North Carolina) of Monday 31st January 1881:

Mr. Staples […] would not support a bill that certified to the world that North Carolina was afraid of competition; that neither revenue nor school appropriation could excuse a bill to take away the liberties of the people; that the bill was against the genius of the age, and added another brick to the Chinese wall of exclusion that was surrounding the State.

3-: With allusion to the Great Wall of China: in the transcript of a speech that the Irish-born U.S. politician and orator William Bourke Cockran (1854-1923) delivered at a Democratic rally held in Boston, in which he denounced “the power of the government, under the Constitution, to impose a protective tariff, of its power to interfere with the rights of the States and enact the most atrocious measure, the force bill, well called a “menace to liberty.””—transcript published in The Boston Daily Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) of Friday 7th October 1892:

It was only the power to restrict, the power to punish, the power to add another brick to that Chinese wall which they seek to build around this country, leaving us here deprived of that free interchange of products with the nations of the earth, to which alone we must look for the general accomplishment of
                                                                                    The Proud Destiny
which Providence invites us to accomplish.

4-: From this advertisement, published in The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) of Monday 23rd December 1895:

Little Girl’s Joy

A new Hat, can you please a child’s fancy more—and be sensible about it? Such Hats as these, at $1.50, only add another brick in our great wall of timely values—See the little maid strut in childish pride for weeks—Yes, get her a Hat.

LUD ZOBEL,
Milliner of Style,
219 S. Spring St.

 

IN BRITISH ENGLISH:

 

1-: From Christianity and the Competitive System, by the Rev. J. H. Hollingsworth, published in The Kent & Sussex Courier (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England) of Friday 12th January 1900—the following is on the fact that “Christ’s social teaching and our economic system are absolutely incompatible”:

“In all cases where Christ’s teachings run counter to economic possibilities, His teachings are powerless.
“I say to my ministerial brethren: ‘Reverend Sirs, if you care to continue this vain task of trying to make water run up hill against the force of gravity, I wish you well of the undertaking. I know well how many of you, sore at heart, return again to the consolation of charity and almsgiving—the only one of Christ’s teachings which you have the slightest chance of getting obeyed. I have seen you satisfying your consciences and your bitter self-dissatisfaction by wringing with all your strength more doles from the rich and handing them to the poor. I marvel at the blindness with which you do this.
“‘I marvel that you do not see that every dollar bestowed in alms-giving adds another brick to the wall that defends our present system and strengthens the barriers which now divide you from the fulfillment [sic] of Christ’s law.’”

2-: From The Croydon Chronicle (Croydon, Surrey, England) of Saturday 19th May 1900—this newspaper was calling attention “to the advertisement in our columns in reference to the Volunteer Reserve”:

The idea is an excellent one. Ex-volunteers of all arms are eligible, and at any age not exceeding 62 in the case of officers, and 55 in the case of men. We trust this important new branch of the Auxiliary Service will prove a great success. It is another brick in the wall of national security.

3-: From the Bournemouth Guardian (Bournemouth, Hampshire, England) of Saturday 21st December 1901:

Mr. Howard Paul signs his name to an interesting letter in the “Guardian” in which he comments on several features of Bournemouth, and in reasonable terms. Such criticism as his is useful—or it should be—and we hope that the authorities will not overlook it. His approval of a pier pavilion is opportune, and also to the need of Bournemouth for drives by the water-side. Mr. Paul’s opinion is that a pavilion rendezvous would much enhance the attractiveness of the town to the well to do visitors, the very people, by the way, whom opponents of the scheme say would be driven away by its erection. His appeal to the town to be progressive and enterprising is very timely. Bournemouth want schemes that are likely to pay, and Mr. Howard Paul adds another brick to the wall of evidence rising in favour of a pavilion.