Book Blurb: I Was Convulsed with Laughter

Groucho Marx? S. J. Perelman? Apocryphal?

grouchodawn08Dear Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx was once asked to write a blurb for a book written by a friend. The result was this hilarious evaluation:

From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.

Was this really written by Marx? What was the name of the book under review?

Quote Investigator: In October 1929 “The Greeley Daily Tribune” of Greeley, Colorado printed an article about books that had been recently received by the local library. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” by S. J. Perelman is humor personified. Groucho Marx says of it, “From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

In November 1929 the powerful syndicated columnist Walter Winchell also mentioned humorist Perelman’s newly published book. The following version of the comment ascribed to Marx was slightly different: the phrase “picked up your book” was replaced by “picked it up”: 2

S. J. Perelman, one of the more comical comedians on Judge, has written a book christened, “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” the words and pictures being by the master himself.

. . . Groucho Marx, of the Three Marx Brothers, has indorsed Mr. Perelman’s book in this manner: “From the moment I picked it up until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

The Google Books database contained a digital copy of “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge”; however, access was restricted and only snippets were visible. Luckily, one snippet revealed the remark from Groucho Marx. QI contacted a librarian who accessed the volume and determined that parts of the dust jacket had been extracted and pasted into the book. The following message was printed on the jacket: 3

grouchonote07Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1929 October 7, The Greeley Daily Tribune (and The Greeley Republican), New Books Received by Greeley Library, Page 10, Column 3, Greeley, Colorado. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1929 November 20, The Scranton Republican, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 5, Column 4 and 5, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. Database: Google Books, Book Title: Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge, Book Author: Sidney Joseph Perelman, Year: 1929, Page Number: i (dustjacket), Access Restriction: Only snippets are visible, Database description: Electronic page scans of millions of books from major research libraries. (Accessed books.google.com on January 27, 2015) link

People Who Say It Cannot Be Done Should Not Interrupt Those Who Are Doing It

George Bernard Shaw? Puck? Saxby’s Magazine? Elbert Hubbard? Confucius? Anonymous?

wright07Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage is the perfect antidote to excessive negativity and obstructionism:

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

These words are often attributed to the acclaimed playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw; unfortunately, I have not been able to locate any solid data to back up this claim. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the Shaw ascription.

QI hypothesizes that the modern expression evolved from a comment about the rapidity of change and innovation at the turn of the century that was printed in multiple newspapers and journals in 1903. One instance appeared on March 7, 1903 in a periodical called “The Public” based in Chicago, Illinois. An acknowledgment to the humor magazine “Puck” was appended. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Things move along so rapidly nowadays that people saying: “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.—Puck.

On March 13, 1903 an instance was published in “The Evansville Courier” of Evansville, Indiana with an acknowledgement to “Saxby’s Magazine”. The statements above and below were both printed as filler items without additional contextual information: 2

Some philosopher takes time to remark that things move along so rapidly nowadays that people who say “It can’t be done,” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.—Saxby’s Magazine.

In April 1903 a journal for educators and parents called “Kindergarten Magazine” printed an instance that exactly matched the statement in “The Public”. The “Puck” acknowledgement was included: 3

During the ensuing decades the expression was reshaped. In 1914 the charismatic aphorism constructor Elbert Hubbard printed a variant in his journal “The Philistine”, but he disclaimed authorship. By 1962 a pseudo Confucian version had been fabricated, and by 2004 a version attributed to George Bernard Shaw was circulating. Detailed citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1903 March 7, The Public, Number 257, Editor Louis F. Post, (Filler item), Quote Page 766, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1903 March 16, The Evansville Courier (Evansville Courier and Press), (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Evansville, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1903 April, Kindergarten Magazine, Volume 15, Number 8, (Filler item), Quote Page 488, Kindergarten Magazine Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

Every Ambitious Would-Be Empire Clarions It Abroad That She Is Conquering the World to Bring It Peace

Henry David Thoreau? George S. Boutwell? Taylor Caldwell? Apocryphal?

boutwell10Dear Quote Investigator: George S. Boutwell was a U.S. politician who campaigned to end slavery and later became president of the Anti-Imperialist League. He objected to the annexation of the Philippines. The following statement has been attributed to him:

Every ambitious would-be empire clarions it abroad that she is conquering the world to bring it peace, security and freedom, and is sacrificing her sons only for the most noble and humanitarian purposes. That is a lie.

I have been unable to find any documentation supporting this ascription. Oddly, the words are also sometimes credited to Henry David Thoreau. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Taylor Caldwell was a very popular author who wrote a series of bestsellers over a span of four decades. Her 1968 novel “Testimony of Two Men” was made into a television miniseries in the 1970s. This work contained the earliest evidence of the quotation known to QI. One of Caldwell’s characters was talking about the beliefs of George S. Boutwell and presented remarks from the politician of uncertain accuracy. The passage was complex because it also included a quotation attributed to Henry David Thoreau. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I remember that Boutwell said, ‘Our war to free Cuba must not be turned into wars for Empire. If America ever does seek Empire, and most nations do, then planned reforms in our domestic life will be abandoned, States Rights will be abolished—in order to impose a centralized government upon us for the purpose of internal repudiation of freedom, and adventures abroad. The American dream will then die—on battlefields all over the world—and a nation conceived in liberty will destroy liberty for Americans and impose tyranny on subject nations.’

Boutwell also said, if I am repeating him correctly, and he quoted Thoreau: ‘If I knew a man was approaching my house to do me good, I would flee for my life.’ Then he went on to say, ‘Every ambitious would-be empire clarions it abroad that she is conquering the world to bring it peace, security and freedom, and is sacrificing her sons only for the most noble and humanitarian purposes. That is a lie, and it is an ancient lie, yet generations still rise and believe it!'”

So the quotation under examination was written by Taylor Caldwell and not by George S. Boutwell. QI has been unable to verify whether Boutwell said or wrote the words attributed to him by Caldwell’s fictional character. Perhaps future researchers will uncover supporting evidence for the Boutwell linkage. Also note that the words about empire were not written by Henry David Thoreau.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1968, Testimony of Two Men by Taylor Caldwell, Quote Page 452, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

A Gentleman Is a Man Who Never Gives Offense Unintentionally

Oscar Wilde? Lord Chesterfield? John Wayne? Anonymous?

oscar10Dear Quote Investigator: Books of etiquette once provided a definition of a gentleman that included the following assertion:

A gentleman never insults anyone intentionally.

The clever addition of a two-letter prefix humorously spun the definition:

A gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally.

This statement is often attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Would you please examine this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a London periodical called “The Saturday Review” in September 1905. This version used the phrase “gives offence” instead of “insults”. No attribution was provided, and the word “extant” signaled that the comical remark was already in circulation: 1

The best extant definition of a gentleman is “a man who never gives offence unintentionally”…

Oscar Wilde died in in 1900, and he was linked to the quip by 1929, but that was very late. QI has not yet found any substantive evidence that Wilde created or used this joke.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1905 September 2, The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, The Tripper Mind, Start Page 301, Quote Page 302, Column 1 and 2, Published at The Office of The Saturday Review, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

The Eternal Stars Shine Out Again, So Soon As It Is Dark Enough

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Martin Luther King Jr.? Emily Faithfull? Amelia Edith Barr? Charles A. Beard? Thomas Carlyle? Norman Vincent Peale? Anonymous?

nightsky07Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular metaphorical expression that encourages people to maintain hope and optimism during times of unhappiness and trouble. Here are three versions:

1) Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
2) When the night is dark enough the stars shine out.
3) Not until it gets really dark do the beautiful stars appear.

Admittedly, there is considerable ambiguity when interpreting these sayings, and the most common meanings may have shifted over time.

The first version above is often attributed to the famous transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I searched a database of his complete works and was unable to find it. Would you please explore this adage?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1843 book “Past and Present” by the influential Scottish philosopher and social commentator Thomas Carlyle. He employed an instance of the metaphor while discussing squalor, strikes, and revolts. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As dark misery settles down on us, and our refuges of lies fall in pieces one after one, the hearts of men, now at last serious, will turn to refuges of truth. The eternal stars shine out again, so soon as it is dark enough.

Different versions of the expression have been circulating for more than a century and a half, but the meaning has been malleable. In the instance above QI believes that Carlyle was suggesting important truths emerged during times of tribulation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson used the expression. Some writers of moral instruction and romantic fiction did use instances in the 1800s.

The prominent historian Charles A. Beard employed the saying in lectures and articles by 1909, but he credited Thomas Carlyle. Indeed, when Beard was asked to summarize his extensive knowledge of the past he produced a condensation that consisted of four laws of history, and one law was based on Carlyle’s words. The other three are listed further below.

The civil rights champion Martin Luther King used an instance in a speech, but he credited Charles A. Beard. The popular religious writer Norman Vincent Peale also helped to popularize the saying.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1843, Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, Book IV: Chapter VIII: The Didactic, Start Page 251, Quote Page 251, Published by Chapman & Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Those Who Love Deeply Never Grow Old

Benjamin Franklin? Dorothy Canfield Fisher? Arthur Wing Pinero? Abigail Van Buren? Anonymous?

love10Dear Quote Investigator: I recently saw an illustration of two people embracing above the following caption:

Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.

At least three different people have been credited with this saying: Dorothy C. Fisher, Benjamin Franklin, and Arthur W. Pinero. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1897 the five act comedy “The Princess and The Butterfly; or, The Fantastics” by Arthur Wing Pinero was staged in London and in New York. The two primary characters were named Princess Pannonia and George Lamorant and were referred to as The Princess and The Butterfly, respectively.

Lamorant proposed marriage to Pannonia, but he also expressed uncertainty about the match to another character named Fay Zuliani who delivered the following advice. Dialectical spelling was employed to depict an Italian accent; “those” was written as “dose”, and “they” was written as “dey”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

FAY: [Slowly coming to the table.] Dose who love deep never grow old, I have ‘eard it said. Dey may die of age, but dey die young. You ought to love de Princess.

Note that the original line used “die of age” and not “die of old age”. Also, the word “deep” was spoken instead of “deeply”.

During a later scene in the play the initial statement was emphasized by being spoken again by both Lamorant and Pannonia though the phrasing was slightly different: 2

SIR GEORGE: That those who love deeply cannot age—
PRINCESS: That those–who love deeply–cannot age?
SIR GEORGE: Yes
PRINCESS: If it were so!
SIR GEORGE: Nor perceive age in those they love.
PRINCESS: What a blessed creed!
SIR GEORGE: Yes.

QI believes that playwright Pinero should be credited with the remark under investigation. The linkages of the quotation to Benjamin Franklin and Dorothy Canfield Fisher were not supported with substantive citations.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1898, The Princess and The Butterfly or, The Fantastics: A Comedy in Five Acts by Arthur W. Pinero (Arthur Wing Pinero), The Fifth Act, Start Page 208, Quote Page 218, Published by William Heinemann, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1898, The Princess and The Butterfly or, The Fantastics: A Comedy in Five Acts by Arthur W. Pinero (Arthur Wing Pinero), The Fifth Act, Start Page 208, Quote Page 234, Published by William Heinemann, London. (Google Books Full View) link

The Hottest Places in Hell Are Reserved for Those Who in a Period of Moral Crisis Maintain Their Neutrality

Dante Alighieri? John F. Kennedy? John A. Hutton? Theodore Roosevelt? W. M. Vines? Henry Powell Spring? Apocryphal?

inferno09Dear Quote Investigator: Dante Alighieri composed the famous tripartite epic poem “The Divine Comedy”. The following statement was supposedly included in the first part called “Inferno”:

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

I have been unable to find this expression in any English translations of the poem. One webpage at Goodreads asserts that President John F. Kennedy attributed the remark to Dante. Another webpage at Goodreads claims that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. made the ascription to Dante. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Dante’s poem does include a section describing the fate of individuals who were neutral between good and evil. Their experiences were gruesome, but they were not placed in a location that was scorching hot.

Dante placed Satan at the lowest part of Hell which was at the center of the Earth, but that location was also not hot. Instead, Satan was trapped with ice around his waist.

QI believes that the statement under investigation evolved in a multistep process from a changing and imperfect interpretation of Dante’s work. In 1915 Theodore Roosevelt wrote that Dante had “reserved a special place of infamy” for neutral angels. In 1917 a religious orator named W. M. Vines incorrectly stated that Dante had placed neutral individuals “in the lowest place in hell”.

In 1944 the spiritual writer Henry Powell Spring penned a book of aphorisms that included a statement ascribed to Dante that closely matched the quotation. John F. Kennedy used the saying several times in speeches in the 1950s and later. Kennedy also attributed the remark to Dante.

The remainder of this article consists of two main sections. First, selected citations are used to trace the expression chronologically. Second, a group of citations presents examples of the proposed denizens of the “worst place in hell”, “the hottest place in hell”, and “the very heart of hell”.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik for his valuable pioneering exploration of this topic. 1

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Notes:

  1. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who…maintain their neutrality”, Date on website: November 21, 2009, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on January 14, 2015) link

The Golden Rule: Whoever Has the Gold Makes the Rules

Wizard of Id? Jafar? Brant Parker? Johnny Hart? Dick Boland? Jack Caprio? Jesse Jackson? Anonymous?

gold07Dear Quote Investigator: The Golden Rule is a famous ethical principle that can be stated as follows:

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Several different lampoons and parodies have been constructed based on this moral directive. I am interested in the origin of the following spoof version:

The person who has the gold makes the rules.

Do you know who crafted this mordant remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1964 the comic strip “Wizard of Id” was launched with Johnny Hart as the primary writer and Brant Parker as the primary illustrator. On May 3, 1965 a four-panel strip presenting the satirical golden rule was published in “The Dallas Morning News” and many other newspapers. 1

In the first panel the diminutive tyrannical King character addressed his subjects from the balcony of his castle and emphasized the need for “peace and harmony”. In the second panel the King continued by stating “We must all live by The Golden Rule”. This caused some confusion in the third panel because his listeners were uncertain about the nature of The Golden Rule. In the fourth panel the troubadour character delivered the explanatory punchline. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

This comic strip contained the earliest evidence of the joke located by QI.

This article continues with additional details and selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1965 May 3, Dallas Morning News, Comic Strip Name: Wizard of Id, Comic Strip Authors: Parker and Hart (Brant Parker and Johnny Hart), Section 2, Quote Page 9, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)

To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing

Aristotle? Elbert Hubbard? William Pitt? Fred Shero? Anonymous?

elbert08Dear Quote Investigator: Receiving criticism is an unpleasant experience, but it is also inevitable. If your actions in the world are significant then you will draw detractors. This notion is cleverly expressed in the following pointed remark:

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

This statement of anti-advice has been attributed to two very different figures: the ancient Greek sage Aristotle and the American aphorist publisher Elbert Hubbard. Who do you think deserves credit?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found any substantive evidence to support an ascription to Aristotle.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an 1898 collection of short essays titled “Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen” by Elbert Hubbard. A piece about the abolitionist politician William H. Seward noted that he was the target of an assassination attempt. But Hubbard suggested that one must brave censure and danger to live a full and meaningful life. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing—court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.

Hubbard crafted multiple versions of the expression, and the saying was often attributed to him in the early decades of the 1900s.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1898, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard, Section: William H. Seward, Start Page 363, Quote Page 370, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York; The Knickerbocker Press, New York. (Edition copyright 1898; Reprint date November 1901) (HathiTrust Full View) link link

Niagara Falls: The First Great Disappointment in Married Life

Oscar Wilde? Ann Landers? Gershon Legman? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

niagara08Dear Quote Investigator: In 1882 the coruscating wit Oscar Wilde came to the United States to see the country and to conduct a series of lectures. When he visited the Niagara Falls, a classic honeymoon destination, he was unimpressed. Here are two variants of a saying that has been attributed to him:

Niagara Falls is the first great disappointment in American married life.

Niagara Falls is the second great disappointment of the American bride.

I am having trouble finding a contemporaneous citation for either of these remarks. Are these really the words of Oscar Wilde?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde saw the Niagara Falls in February 1882 and made a collection of serious and comical pronouncements about the hydrological wonder. The earliest evidence of a strongly matching statement located by QI appeared in an August 1883 interview printed in “The New York World” and reprinted in other newspapers. Wilde had returned to the U.S. to superintend the production of his play “Vera” in New York, and he spoke to a journalist from the periodical. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

When the reporter hinted that American patriotism had been grievously wounded by Mr. Wilde’s criticism upon Niagara, the poet laughed and said modestly:

Niagara will survive any criticism of mine. I must say this, however, that it is the first disappointment in the married life of many Americans who spend their honeymoon there.”

Wilde employed this quip about the waterfall in lectures that he later delivered in England and Ireland though the precise wording varied.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Wilde employed the variant joke with the phrase “second great disappointment”. It was in circulation by 1927, but this was many years after the death of Wilde in 1900. The variant was initially anonymous and then it was reassigned to Wilde probably because of confusion between the two similar jokes. Detailed information is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1883 August 13, The Daily Patriot, Oscar Wilde Returns: In Commonplace Clothing and Shorn of His Glorious Locks, (Acknowledgement: “From Yesterday’s New York World”), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank)