Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

castle14Dear Quote Investigator: The notable wit Dorothy Parker constructed several epitaphs for herself. I am interested in the following:

Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!

When did she craft this fateful expression?

Dear Quote Investigator: QI has already examined a collection of epitaphs that have been ascribed to Dorothy Parker; this is the fifth and final member of the set, and it will be explored below. Here is a link to a webpage that has pointers to four other analyses.

In October 1924 “Vanity Fair” magazine published a feature presenting self-selected memorial remarks obtained from prominent artists and writers of the time:

A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs
Some Well-Known People Seize the Coveted Opportunity of Saying the Last Word

Most of the inscriptions were comical, but Parker’s blunt remark suggested an outlook of despair: 1

parkerthanksThe article was successful and “Vanity Fair” gathered another set of epitaphs for publication in June 1925. Parker responded with a more lighthearted saying: 2

Excuse My Dust

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1924 October, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 42, Quote Page 43, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1925 June, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 50, Quote Page 51, Column 3, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph illustration), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

Life Is Either a Daring Adventure or Nothing

Helen Keller? Van Wyck Brooks? Apocryphal?

keller09Dear Quote Investigator: An inspirational adage encouraging boldness and audacity has been attributed to Helen Keller who overcame great adversity:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

Is this accurate?

Quote Investigator: Helen Keller did write a closely matching statement; however, the appended phrase “at all” was not present in the original text.

In 1940 Keller published “Let Us Have Faith” and a chapter titled “Faith Fears Not” contained the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

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Notes:

  1. 1946 (1940 Copyright), Let Us Have Faith by Helen Keller, Chapter: Faith Fears Not, Quote Page 50 and 51, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans of 1946 reprint of 1940 edition)

Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People

Eleanor Roosevelt? Charles Stewart? Henry Thomas Buckle? James H. Halsey? Hyman G. Rickover? Anonymous?

topics08Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage is largely used to deride people who are preoccupied with gossip:

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

The words are attributed to social activist and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, but I have been unable to find a solid supporting citation. Similar statements have been ascribed to philosopher Socrates and U.S. Naval engineer Hyman Rickover. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a 1901 autobiography by Charles Stewart. As a child in London, Stewart listened to the conversation of dinner guests such as history scholar Henry Thomas Buckle who would sometimes discourse engagingly for twenty minutes on a topic. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

His thoughts and conversation were always on a high level, and I recollect a saying of his, which not only greatly impressed me at the time, but which I have ever since cherished as a test of the mental calibre of friends and acquaintances. Buckle said, in his dogmatic way: “Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”

Stewart was pleased with Buckle’s adage, but he did not let its implicit guidance dictate his conversations. He wished avoid the tedium of monotonous dialogues:

The fact, of course, is that any of one’s friends who was incapable of a little intermingling of these condiments would soon be consigned to the home for dull dogs.

Buckle’s tripartite remark specified the categories: persons, things, and ideas. The questioner’s statement used the division: people, events, and ideas. So the statements did differ; indeed, the remark evolved during decades of circulation, and it was reassigned to a variety of individuals.

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Notes:

  1. 1901, Haud Immemor: Reminiscences of Legal and Social Life in Edinburgh and London 1850-1900 by Charles Stewart, Quote Page 33, William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London. (Google Books Full View) link

You’re Never Too Old, Too Wacky, Too Wild, To Pick Up a Book, and Read to a Child

Theodor Seuss Geisel? Anita Merina? Anonymous?

reading08Dear Quote Investigator: There is an enthusiastic quotation about reading that has been attributed to the famous children’s author Dr. Seuss:

You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book & read to a child.

I haven’t been able to track down the precise book in which this was written. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This verse was written in a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel. However, QI believes that it was not actually constructed by him.

In March 1998 a guest columnist in “The Augusta Chronicle” printed a poem containing the lines above and credited Anita Merina who was a staff member of the National Education Association (NEA). Merina’s poem was part of a campaign called “Read Across America” designed to encourage children and adults to read: 1

It’s never too cold, too wet or too hot
To pick up a book, and share what you’ve got
You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild
To pick up a book, and read to a child.
In churches and chambers, let’s gather round
Let’s pick up a book, let’s pass it around
There are children around you, children in need
Of someone who’ll hug, someone who’ll read
So join us March 2nd in your special own way
And make this America’s read to Kids Day.

—Anita Merina, 1997

This poem says it all! The members of the Richmond County Association of Educators, the student Georgia Association of Educators and the National Education Association invited everyone to join a nationwide reading effort on March 2 to celebrate the birthday of the late, beloved Dr. Seuss.

The nationwide effort, called “Read Across America,” originated with NEA’s collaboration with Dr. Seuss’ widow to focus America’s attention on the importance of reading in our children’s lives. It was a great success.

The poem has been closely associated with the name of Dr. Seuss as shown in the excerpt above; hence, confusion and misattribution were understandable.

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Notes:

  1. 1998 March 9, Augusta Chronicle, Guest Column: National event celebrated importance of reading, by Gretchen Simpson of Augusta (National Education Association director of Georgia), Quote Page 5A, Column 1, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)

Education Is the Inculcation of the Incomprehensible Into the Ignorant by the Incompetent

John Maynard Keynes? Josiah Stamp? Ernest Brown? Anonymous?

university07Dear Quote Investigator: The most outrageous quotation about education that I have ever heard has been attributed to the famous economist John Maynard Keynes. Here are three versions:

1) Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the ignorant by the incompetent.

2) Education: the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent.

3) Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indolent by the inept.

Recently, I encountered an attribution of this alliterative remark to Josiah Stamp who was an industrialist, an economist, and a director of the Bank of England. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a book titled “Ideals of a Student” by Sir Josiah Stamp. The preface was dated September 1933, and Stamp wrote that the section containing the quotation was based on a commencement address he delivered “at Toronto this year”. Stamp was probably referring to the University of Toronto. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

What is the position of education in all this? Well, its place in this scheme ought to be easily visible to all of us. The time has gone by when we can say that education is “the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the ignorant by the incompetent.” Now upon us students is the responsibility: for these complexities of economic life require certain qualities of judgment.

Stamp used quotation marks to signal that the expression was already in circulation; hence, he appeared to disclaim authorship. He also expressed disagreement with the statement. Nevertheless, in the following years his name was firmly attached to the saying.

The connection to John Maynard Keynes was established by 1962 when the diplomat Abba Eban wrote an article stating that he heard the saying from Keynes at Cambridge during the 1930s. The detailed citation for this article is given further below.

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Notes:

  1. 1933, Ideals of a Student by Sir Josiah Stamp, Chapter 2: On the Democratic Hope, Quote Page 53, Published by E. Benn, London. (The preface was dated September 1933 and in the preface Josiah Stamp stated that chapter 2 was based on a commencement address he delivered “at Toronto this year”, i.e., at the University of Toronto in 1933) (Verified with scans; great thanks to Stephen Goranson and the Duke University library system)

What I Hate About Writing Is the Paperwork

Peter De Vries? Apocryphal?

paperwork07Dear Quote Investigator: There is an amusing quip that is perfect for National Novel Writing Month. Here are two versions:

1) I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.
2) Writing: I like everything about it but the paperwork.

This comment has been attributed to the novelist, poet, and playwright Peter De Vries whose satiric tales were regularly featured in “The New Yorker”. I wanted to share this joke now because the literary world is unstable. People are using word processors and publishing e-books. A future generation may find the remark anachronistic. Would you please tell me where this quotation appeared?

Quote Investigator: Peter De Vries did present an instance of this joke in his 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben”, but the phrasing differed from the two versions specified by the questioner. A character named Mopworth dreamed of auctorial success. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Standing at the window with his hands in his pockets, Mopworth had a vision of the day when he would be interviewed by the press on the publication of his book. He had some mots all ready. “What I hate about writing is the paperwork.” And: “A writer is like the pencil he uses. He must be worn down to be kept sharp.”

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Notes:

  1. 1964, Reuben, Reuben by Peter De Vries, Chapter 27, Quote Page 314, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans; thanks to Thomas Fuller)

Always Remember That You Are Absolutely Unique. Just Like Everyone Else

Margaret Mead? Jim Wright? John Peers? Meade? Red Green? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

snow09Dear Quote Investigator: A very funny quotation about individuality has been attributed to the influential anthropologist Margaret Mead:

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

I would like to include this in a book I am preparing, but I have not been able to find a good citation, yet. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the assertion that this remark was made by Margaret Mead. In fact, QI conjectures that the ascription was constructed based on the misreading of a passage in the 1979 citation presented further below.

The earliest evidence located by QI of a similar type of quip appeared in 1971 and was written by an assistant editorial director for the “The Dallas Morning News” named Jim Wright. Wright criticized a best-selling book from the 1970s called “The Greening of America” by a Yale academic. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In other words, the Yale professor’s best-selling work answers the burning question that every teen-age youth revolutionary is asking today: “How can I be unique just like everybody else?”

Because this joke can be expressed in many ways it has been difficult to trace, and the existence of instances before 1971 would be unsurprising to QI.

An exact match for the saying under investigation was printed in a 1979 compilation from John Peers with a remarkably long title: “1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Trusty Truisms, Homey Homilies, Colorful Corollaries, Quotable Quotes, and Rambunctious Ruminations for All Walks of Life”: 2

Meade’s Maxim:
Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

Note that Peers labeled the adage “Meade’s Maxim” and not “Mead’s Maxim”. In addition, sometimes Peers selected a label for comical effect, e.g.: 3

The Skier’s Rumination:
Don’t ever eat yellow snow.

So, the saying may not even be solidly linked to someone named Meade.

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Notes:

  1. 1971 March 13, Dallas Morning News, On Second Thought: By the Numbers: I, II, III, Nonconform! by Jim Wright, Section: D, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Quote Page 155, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Quote Page 85, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

What Is Written Without Effort Is In General Read Without Pleasure

Samuel Johnson? Apocryphal?

johnson09Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I experience difficulties while writing I recall a remark attributed to Samuel Johnson that is both cautionary and encouraging:

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

I have not been able to find this statement in a book written by Johnson or by his biographer James Boswell. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: Samuel Johnson died in 1784, and the earliest known evidence linking him to this adage was published fifteen years after his demise. An industrious collector of anecdotes named William Seward released “Biographiana” in 1799. This two volume work of short biographical sketches contained an entry for a translator known as Abbé Marolles who was criticized by Seward for the poor quality of his translations and verses. A footnote within the entry attributed the saying under investigation to Johnson: 1

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”—Dr. Johnson.

Interestingly, an important precursor of this adage was published many years earlier in 1764 when “The Scots Magazine” published a biographical profile of the poet and satirist Charles Churchill. The work “The Prophecy of Famine” was a great success for Churchill, and the author of the profile contended that his subsequent poems were of low quality. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

(The Prophecy of Famine) had accordingly a rapid and extensive sale; and it was often asserted by his admirers that Mr Churchill was a better poet than Mr Pope. This exaggerated adulation, as it had before corrupted his morals, now began to impair his mind: several succeeding pieces were published, which, being written without effort, are read without pleasure.

The above critical expression was applied to a specific set of poems, and syntactically it did not precisely fit the form of an adage. Nevertheless, the conversion of the phrase into an adage would have been effortless. The writer of the words above was not listed in the magazine.

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Notes:

  1. 1799, Biographiana, “By the Compiler of Anecdotes of Distinguished Person”, (William Seward), Footnote, Quote Page 260, Printed for J. Johnson, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1764 December, The Scots Magazine, Volume 26, Memoirs of Mr Charles Churchill, Start Page 649, Quote Page 651, Printed for W. Sands, A Murray, and J Cochran, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link

Easy Reading Is Hard Writing

Maya Angelou? Nathaniel Hawthorne? Thomas Hood? Richard Brinsley Sheridan? Charles Allston Collins? Anthony Trollope? Lord Byron? William Makepeace Thackeray? Anonymous?

library11Dear Quote Investigator: Writers should strive to create texts that are informative, interesting, stimulating, and readable. But one of my favorite sayings reveals that this can be a remarkably difficult task:

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

I thought this adage was coined by the prominent author Maya Angelou, but recently I learned that she credited Nathaniel Hawthorne. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: This topic is complicated by the existence of two complementary statements that are often confused. Many different versions of these statements have circulated over the years. Here are two expository instances:

1) Easy writing results in hard reading.
2) Easy reading requires hard writing.

An extended discussion of the first maxim is available under the title “Easy Writing’s Vile Hard Reading” located here. This entry will focus on the second maxim.

The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI appeared in the London periodical “The Athenaeum” in 1837. The humorist, poet, and essayist Thomas Hood wrote a letter to the editor which was printed under the title “Copyright and Copywrong”. Hood commented on the process of writing. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

And firstly, as to how he writes, upon which head there is a wonderful diversity of opinions; one thinks that writing is “as easy as lying,” and pictures the author sitting carefully at his desk “with his glove on,” like Sir Roger de Coverley’s poetical ancestor. A second holds that “the easiest reading is d__d hard writing,” and imagines Time himself beating his brains over an extempore.

Hood placed the adage between quotation marks suggesting that it was already in use. In fact, variant statements containing the phrases “hard reading” and “easy writing” were already being disseminated, and the expression probably evolved from those antecedents. Hence, apportioning credit for the formulation of this maxim is a difficult task.

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Notes:

  1. 1837 April 22, The Athenaeum: Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts, Copyright and Copywrong, (Letter to the Editor of the Athenaeum from Thomas Hood), Start Page 285, Quote Page 286 and 287, Printed by James Holmes, London, Published at the Office of The Athenaeum, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Easy Writing’s Vile Hard Reading

Richard Brinsley Sheridan? Lord Byron? Ernest Hemingway? Anonymous?

reading15Dear Quote Investigator: There are two complementary and intertwined statements about reading and writing that I would like you to investigate:

1) Easy writing results in hard reading.
2) Easy reading requires hard writing.

Many different phrases have been used to express these two thoughts, and sometimes the phrases are confused with one another. The formulations above were selected to make the two concepts more straightforward. Here is my gloss of the first: If one composes a passage in an easygoing thoughtless manner then the result will be difficult to read. My gloss of the second is: One must work hard to compose a passage that a reader will be able to grasp readily.

Various well-known names have been connected to these adages including: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Lord Byron, Samuel Johnson, Maya Angelou, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hood, William Makepeace Thackeray, Ernest Hemingway, and Wallace Stegner. Would you please explore the provenance of these sayings?

Quote Investigator: This entry will focus on the first maxim listed above. A separate entry for the second maxim with the title “Easy Reading Is Hard Writing” is located here.

The prominent Irish poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan composed “Clio’s Protest or, the Picture Varnished” in 1771 and it was distributed in 1772. Sheridan’s name was not listed in the original publication which harshly satirized the efforts of a poetaster. The word “show” was spelled “shew” in the following excerpt: 1

You write with ease, to shew your breeding;
But easy writing’s vile hard reading.

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Notes:

  1. Year: 1772 (Date of introductory letter January 26, 1772), Title: The Rival Beauties; A Poetical Contest, Poem Information: Clio’s Protest; Or, The Picture Varnished, Addressed to The Honourable Lady M-rg-r-t F-rd-ce, Start Page: 5, Quote Page: 16, Imprint: London: Printed for W. Griffin, at Garrick’s Head, in Catharine-Street, Strand; and sold by R. Cruttwell, in St. James’s-Street, Bath, Database: ECCO Eighteenth Century Collections Online.