If We Are Here to Help Others, I Often Wonder What the Others Are Here For

W. H. Auden? George Herbert Palmer? Young Boy? Thomas Robert Dewar? John Foster Hall? Anonymous?

auden09Dear Quote Investigator: Altruism is a cornerstone of many religions and philosophies. Here are two versions of a humorous comment on this topic:

If we are here to help others, I often wonder what the others are here for.

We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know.

This quip has been attributed to the prominent poet W. H. Auden and the Scottish whisky distiller Thomas Dewar. Do you know who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: The first expression listed above was attributed to Thomas Robert Dewar in 1926. The joke was included in a set of sayings printed in a newspaper under the title “A Peer’s Epigrams” with a concluding ascription to “Lord Dewar”. The details for this cite are given further below

In addition, W. H. Auden did write the second expression in a 1942 essay, but the context indicated that he was repeating an existing joke. Details are further below.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared before the above two citations in the “Year Book of the Brookline Education Society” in1897. A lecture was delivered in Brookline, Massachusetts by a Harvard Professor named George Herbert Palmer, and he spoke about the complex nature of altruism:

We must be altruists—although I am not sure that altruism is not a sort of contradiction.

Palmer told a version of the joke in which a child spoke the punch line: 1

Professor Palmer here related an anecdote of two children who were overheard talking one night on the end of living. Such a narrow subject for children! The girl said that she knew what she was here for—”to help others.” “Well,” remarked the boy, “what are the others here for?” This is the weakness of altruism.

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  1. 1897, Year Book of the Brookline Education Society, Second Year: 1896-1897, Third Lecture, January 27th: Subject: “The Profession of the Teacher”, (Date of lecture January 27, 1897), Start Page 14, Quote Page 16, Published by The Riverdale Press: C.A.W. Spencer, Brookline, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Alone We Can Do So Little. Together We Can Do So Much

Helen Keller? Apocryphal?

care06Dear Quote Investigator: A website on education policy began a recent article with a statement attributed to Helen Keller:

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

No citation was given. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Helen Keller did speak this line on multiple occasions. In the early 1920s Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan decided to earn money by performing on the vaudeville circuit. Their finances were precarious, and they had successfully given performances on the Chautauqua circuit in the past.

The comprehensive dual biography “Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy” by Joseph P. Lash released in 1980 included a chapter about this interval spent in show business. The act of Keller and Sullivan “lasted only twenty minutes”, and it included a short speech by Keller though “every word was still a battle to enunciate”. The saying was part of this homily. Boldface has been added to this excerpt: 1

My Teacher has told you how a word from her hand touched the darkness of my mind and I awoke to the gladness of life. I was dumb; now I speak. I owe this to the hands and hearts of others. Through their love I found my soul and God and happiness. Don’t you see what it means? We live by each other and for each other. Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. Only love can break down the walls that stand between us and our happiness.

The author did not indicate the precise provenance of the speech text, but he did have access to several key repositories, e.g., the Helen Keller archives at the American Foundation for the Blind and the archive at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf in Washington, D.C.

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  1. 1980, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy by Joseph P. Lash, Chapter: On the Vaudeville Circuit , Start Page 487, Quote Page 489, A Merloyd Lawrence Book: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, New York. (Verified on paper)

Half of the Town Councilors Are Not Fools

Swedish Councilor? Benjamin Disraeli? Australian Alderman? Casey Motsisi? Apocryphal?

parliament06Dear Quote Investigator: Recently on twitter I saw a joke about the limits placed on unparliamentary language in Britain. A photo depicted an unhappy contemporary politician in the House of Commons with a caption similar to the following:

Politician: Half the members of the opposition are crooks.
House of Commons Speaker: Please retract.
Politician: OK. Half the members of the opposition are not crooks.

In the past, I heard an anecdote that followed the same outline and finished with the punch line:

Half the Cabinet members are not asses.

These words were attributed to the prominent British statesman Benjamin Disraeli. However, I haven’t been able to find a good citation. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: An anecdote about Benjamin Disraeli following the template of this joke has been in circulation for decades. However, the earliest evidence located by QI linking the tale to Disraeli appeared in 1958, and the statesman died in 1881. Details for this citation are given further below.

The first instance of the jape found by QI was printed in a newspaper story in July 1927 set in an unnamed town near Uppsala, Sweden. A government official reportedly lost his temper and rebuked his fellows. Boldface has been added: 1

A municipal councilor … remarked that certainly half of his colleagues were fools. An apology was demanded. He promised to make reparation and caused bills with the following correction to be posted on boardings in the town: “I said that half of the town councilors are fools. I now declare that half of the town councilors are not fools.”

Over the years the jest has evolved and has been aimed at a variety of people, including town councilors, aldermen, cabinet members, and members of the House of Commons.

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  1. 1927 July 20, Altoona Mirror, The Better Half, Quote Page 12, Column 1, Altoona, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)

Happiness Is A Butterfly, Which When Pursued, Seems Always Just Beyond Your Grasp

Nathaniel Hawthorne? Henry David Thoreau? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

monarch06Dear Quote Investigator: An ingenious and lovely simile about happiness is confusingly attributed to two prominent literary figures: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. Here are two versions:

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

Who do you think really originated this analogy?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that neither of these gentlemen was responsible for this figurative language. The earliest evidence located by QI was published in several periodicals beginning in 1848.

In September 1848 a newspaper in Missouri printed a set of thirteen definitions for terms such as “Love”, “Faith”, “Truth”, “Wealth”, and “Experience”. The following three were included, and no attributions were given. The butterfly metaphor was presented within the definition for “Happiness”. Boldface has been added: 1

LOVE.—The electric shock communicating between two human galvanic batteries.

WEALTH.—The sum that gives content, whether one dollar or a million.

HAPPINESS.—A butterfly, which when pursued, seems always just beyond your grasp, but if you sit down quietly may alight upon you.

The initial instances of this saying were all anonymous. The mistaken ascription to Nathaniel Hawthorne appeared many years later and was probably based on the misreading of an ambiguous entry in a book of quotations published in 1891. The details are given further below.

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  1. 1848 September 23, Saturday Morning Visitor, A Chapter of Definitions, Quote Page 1, Column 5, City of Warsaw, Missouri. (Chronicling America)

Anyone Who Doesn’t Take Truth Seriously in Small Matters Cannot Be Trusted in Large Ones Either

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

einstein06Dear Quote Investigator: My University has an Academic Integrity Office which has launched a poster campaign that includes an image of Albert Einstein together with the following statement which has been ascribed to the brilliant physicist:

Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted with large ones either.

Misquotations linked to this famous genius are very common, and I have not yet found convincing evidence that these really are the words of Einstein. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this quotation and its ascription are genuine; however, the words were originally written in German by Einstein; hence, multiple translations into English were possible.

In 1957 the journal “New Outlook: Middle East Monthly” printed a statement with the following description:

Excerpt from Albert Einstein’s last statement, April, 1955, published here for the first time through the kindness of Helen Dukas, Professor Einstein’s secretary.

The journal presented the text in German with an accompanying English translation. The English passage included a close match for the statement under investigation. Boldface has been added: 1

Wenn es sich um Wahrheit und Gerechtigkeit handelt, gibt es nicht die Unterscheidung zwischen kleinen und grossen Problemen. Denn die allgemeinen Gesichtspunkte, die das Handeln der Menschen betreffen, sind unteilbar. Wer es in kleinen Dingen mit der Wahrheit nicht ernst nimmt, dem kann man auch in grossen Dingen nicht vertrauen…

When the issue is one of Truth and Justice, there can be no differentiating between small problems and great ones. For the general viewpoints on human behaviour are indivisible. People who fail to regard the truth seriously in small matters, cannot be trusted in matters that are great.

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  1. 1957 July, New Outlook: Middle East Monthly, Volume 1, Number 1, Albert Einstein On Israeli-Arab Relations, Quote Page 5, Published by Tazpioth, Tel Aviv, Israel, (Verified on paper)

Repentance on a Sunday for What One Has Done on Saturday

Thomas R. Ybarra? Contributor to Life Magazine? Victor L. Berger? Anonymous?

calendar06Dear Quote Investigator: Individuals who attend church services without sincerity have long been criticized with the following sardonic description:

Those who repent on Sunday,
For what they did on Saturday,
And plan to do again on Monday.

I have been unable to determine who first said this. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI was printed in the humor magazine “Life” in 1905, and the author was unidentified: 1

A Christian is a man who feels
Repentance on a Sunday
For what he has done on Saturday,
And is going to do on Monday.

This theme has a long history and QI conjectures that the above verse was inspired directly or indirectly by lines in a poem published in the eighteenth century. Details are given below.

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  1. 1905 December 14, Life, Volume 46, Number 1207, A Definition, Quote Page 746, Column 2, Life Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Do Not Be So Open-Minded That Your Brains Fall Out

Carl Sagan? Arthur Hays Sulzberger? Marianne Moore? E. E Cummings? William Allan Neilson? Walter Kotschnig? G. K. Chesterton? Max Radin? James Oberg? Anonymous?

open07Dear Quote Investigator: There is a desirable balance between exploring novel ideas with an open mind and maintaining a healthy skepticism. The following humorous cautionary statement exemplifies the tension:

Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

I have heard this expression attributed to New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Smith College President William Allan Neilson, and astronomer Carl Sagan. Do you know who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a newspaper report in January 1940 about a speech by Walter Kotschnig given at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Kotschnig worked with refugee organizations early in his career and subsequently joined the United States State Department. Boldface has been added: 1 2

Prof. Walter Kotschnig told Holyoke College students to keep their minds open—“but not so open that your brains fall out.”

He condemned the purpose of students who go to college merely to learn skill and urged his listeners to find the “real aim of education, to acquire a philosophy of life, intellectual honesty, and a constant search for truth.”

The same metaphor was used in 1937; however, the phrasing was condemnatory instead of cautionary. Details for this citation are given further below. The comical notion that an open mind might lead to a mind with “nothing in it at all” was suggested much earlier in 1886.

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  1. 1940 January 27, Blytheville Courier News, Professor Tells Students to Open Minds to Truth, Quote Page 2, Column 2 and 3, Blytheville, Arkansas. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1940 February 1, The Canton Repository (Repository), “Open Mind to Truth, Holyoke Class Told” Quote Page 12, Column 8, Canton, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute

P.T. Barnum? Hungry Joe Lewis? Artemus Ward? Mike McDonald? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

barnum06Dear Quote Investigator: A famous saying about gullibility is usually attributed to the well-known showman P. T. Barnum. Here are two versions:

There’s a sucker born every minute.
There’s a fool born every minute.

Whether Barnum actually used either of these expressions is controversial. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no persuasive evidence that Phineas Taylor Barnum who died in 1891 spoke or wrote this common saying. Researcher Ralph Keyes stated in “The Quote Verifier” that “No modern historian takes seriously the routine attribution of this slogan to P. T. Barnum.” 1

There exists a family of closely related expressions with a long history. Here is a sampling together with years of occurrence. The first item listed employed dialectical spelling. The word “flat” was a synonym for “fool”. The abbreviation “attrib” means that the words were attributed to an individual, but the evidence was indirect:

1806: there vash von fool born every minute
1826: a new fool is born every day
1839: there is a flat born every minute
1877: there is a fool born every hour
1882: there was a sucker born every minute (attrib anon con man)
1885: there was a sucker born every minute (attrib Hungry Joe)
1888: there is a sucker born every minute (attrib Artemus Ward)
1889: a sucker is born every minute (attrib Mike McDonald)
1890: a fool was born every minute (attrib P.T. Barnum)
1892: there was a sucker born every minute (attrib P.T. Barnum)

The above listing is a snapshot of current research results, and it will certainly change over time as more data is gathered. The earliest instances of these expressions were anonymous, and QI believes that later attributions had inadequate support.

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  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 215, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

If I Had a Single Flower for Every Time I Think of You, I Could Walk Forever in My Garden

Alfred Lord Tennyson? Claudia Adrienne Grandi? Anonymous?

tennyson05Dear Quote Investigator: The website of a major international news organization has an article titled “Tennyson: 10 Essential Quotes” with the following item listed third: 1

If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.

Strangely, I have not been able to locate this expression in the oeuvre of Alfred Lord Tennyson. According to the commentary in the article this quote has become quite popular:

This romantic sentiment may sound like the message on a greeting card, but it now makes its way into wedding speeches and toasts.

Would you please trace the provenance of this popular sentiment?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive support for crediting the famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson with this expression.

The earliest evidence of a close match found by QI was printed in a Rockmart, Georgia newspaper in May 1992. The paper described the contents of an annual publication called “The Sting” which was created by the local Middle School. A section of memories included the verse and identified the author as by Claudia Adrienne Grandi. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

A special remembrance was given to Joey Watts with a poem which read: “If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk forever in my garden” written by Claudia Adrienne Grandi.

The phrasing of this instance differed somewhat from the most common modern version. For example, this poem referred to “a single flower” instead of “a flower”; also, the position of the word “forever” was shifted.

The evocative poems of Grandi have appeared in several collections published by “Blue Mountain Arts” which is a popular greeting card company. QI believes Grandi should be credited with the verse and not Tennyson.

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  1. Website: BBC News Magazine, Article title: “Tennyson: 10 essential quotes”, Date on website: March 7, 2011, Website description: British Broadcasting Corporation, public service broadcaster of news and entertainment in the United Kingdom. (Accessed bbc.co.uk on April 7, 2014) link
  2. 1992 May 27, The Rockmart Journal, Annual received at Elm Street, Quote Page 10A, Column 4, Rockmart, Georgia. (Google News Archive)

They May Forget What You Said, But They Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel

Frank A. Patterson Jr.? Maya Angelou? Carl W. Buehner? Carl W. Buechner? Carol Buchner? Don Aslett? Jerry Johnston? Anonymous?

speaking06Dear Quote Investigator: The most valuable advice that I have ever heard for speakers and teachers is the following:

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

This statement has been attributed to Carol Buchner, Maya Angelou, and others. The essential insight is that a skilled communicator must be aware of the emotional valence of his or her words. Would you please explore the history of this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1971 collection titled “Richard Evans’ Quote Book”. The statement was ascribed to Carl W. Buehner who was a high-level official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: 1

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
—Carl W. Buehner

Richard L. Evans who compiled the set of quotations was also a prominent figure in the LDS church. For more than forty years he was the program narrator for the weekly radio and television broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called “Music and the Spoken Word”. Evans presented three-minute sermonettes addressing a variety of themes. 2 3 The book’s subtitle indicated that some material was from these broadcasts:

Selected from the “Spoken Word” and “Thought for the Day” and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries.

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  1. 1971, Richard Evans’ Quote Book by Richard L. Evans, (“Selected from the ‘Spoken Word’ and ‘Thought for the Day’ and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries”) Quote Page 244, Column 2, Publishers Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Verified with scans; thanks to the librarians of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah)
  2. Website: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Webpage title: History of Music and the Spoken Word, Date on website: Undated, Website description: Information about The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Accessed mormontabernaclechoir.org on April 5, 2014) link
  3. 1976, The Worth of a Smile: Spoken Words for Daily Living by J. Spencer Kinard, Section: Preface, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)