A Pessimist Sees the Difficulty in Every Opportunity; an Optimist Sees the Opportunity in Every Difficulty

Winston Churchill? Bertram Carr? F. W. Cole? John D. Rockefeller? L. P. Jacks? Helen Keller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: Here are four versions of a popular saying about differing mental attitudes:

  1. The pessimist sees an obstacle in every opportunity; the optimist sees an opportunity in every obstacle.
  2. An optimist finds an opportunity in every difficulty; a pessimist finds a difficulty in every opportunity
  3. A pessimist is one who sees a disaster in every opportunity. An optimist sees opportunity in every disaster.
  4. An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.

The statesman Winston Churchill is typically credited with this remark, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Churchill made this statement. The historian Richard M. Langworth placed the saying in an appendix titled “Red Herrings: False Attributions” in his book “Churchill By Himself” which is the most comprehensive collection of Churchill quotations. 1

The earliest strong match located by QI was spoken in 1919 by Bertram Carr who was the Mayor of Carlisle, England. He was addressing “The Fifty-First Annual Co-operative Congress”, a gathering inspired by social reformers and the cooperative movement. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

The past history of an old walled city such as this leaves its legacy of ideas antiquated and out of date. These, as expressed in tangible form, are an embarrassment, and hinder the wheels of progress, but we view these, I hope, in the spirit of the optimist to whom every difficulty is an opportunity, and not as the pessimist, to whom every opportunity presents some difficulty.

The ascription to Carr is tentative because the saying may have already been circulating. Fragments appeared earlier, and the full statement was probably assembled from these pieces over time.

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Notes:

  1. 2013 December 12 (Kindle Edition Date), Churchill By Himself (Winston Churchill’s In His Own Words Collection), Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Appendix I: Red Herrings: False Attributions, Entry: Pessimist and optimist. (Kindle Location 19806)
  2. 1919, The Fifty-First Annual Co-operative Congress, Held at the Market Hall, Carlisle, England, On 9th, 10th, and 11th June, 1919, The Congress Luncheon, Start Page 61, Quote Page 64, Published by the Co-operative Union Limited, Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link

I Don’t Owe My Public Anything Except a Good Performance

Humphrey Bogart? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Maintaining a private personal life is nearly impossible for individuals who become famous. Gossip shows revel in presenting an endless stream of sensitive and embarrassing incidents. Apparently, the Hollywood superstar Humphrey Bogart once said in exasperation something like the following::

  1. The only thing I owe the public is a good performance.
  2. I owe the public just one thing — a good performance

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In November 1949 a California newspaper presented remarks made by Bogart during an interview. He referred to the antics of Errol Flynn. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Nowadays they want you to treat this industry like a religion. Flynn and I are the only ones left who do any good, ole hell-raising. Oh, a couple of the girls have a little spark … Shelley Winters and Paulette Goddard and Lana Turner.

“But watch the old hypocrites land on us every time we cut loose!”

They’re forever reminding him. Bogie snorted, about his responsibilities to his public.

“I don’t owe my public anything,” he says, “except a good performance. That’s what they pay for. And if they get it, we’re even-stephen.

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Notes:

  1. 1949 November 10, San Mateo Times Bogart Likes Pandas-They Don’t Talk About the Movies by Virginia Macpherson, Quote Page 7, Column 2, San Mateo, California. (NewspaperArchive)

There Is Less in This Than Meets the Eye

Tallulah Bankhead? Dorothy Parker? Robert Benchley? James Boswell? Richard Burke? William Hazlitt?

Dear Quote investigator: The actress Tallulah Bankhead was watching an ostentatious play, and she whispered to her companion a hilarious line based on an inverted cliché:

There is less in this than meets the eye.

This quip has also been attributed to two other witty people: Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: QI has located no substantive support for ascribing the comment to Parker or Benchley.

In 1922 the theater critic Alexander Woollcott invited Tallulah Bankhead to join him at a performance of Maurice Maeterlinck’s drama “Aglavaine and Selysette”. The following day Woollcott’s hostile review of the production in “The New York Times” credited the remark to a “beautiful lady”: 1

The civility of the spectators was really extraordinary. There was not so much as a snicker, for instance, when William Raymond, as Meleander, cried out anxiously: “What shall I be doing next year?” Not a ripple when Clare Eames, gazing severely at the audience, said: “It is sometimes better not to rouse those who slumber.” It is, it is, indeed. But after all the matinee was best summed up by the beautiful lady in the back row, who said: “There is less in this than meets the eye.”

Later in 1922 Woollcott published the book “Shouts and Murmurs: Echoes of a Thousand and One First Nights”. He discussed Maeterlinck’s play in a chapter called “Capsule Criticism” and credited the statement to Bankhead: 2

Two gifted young actresses and a considerable bit of scenery were involved, and much pretentious rumbling of voice and wafting of gesture had gone into the enterprise. Miss Bankhead, fearful, apparently, lest she be struck dead for impiety, became desperate enough to whisper, “There is less in this than meets the eye.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1922 January 4, New York Times, The Play by Alexander Woollcott, Quote Page 11, Column 1, New York, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1922, Shouts and Murmurs: Echoes of a Thousand and One First Nights by Alexander Woollcott, Chapter 4: Capsule Criticism, Start Page 77, Quote Page 86, The Century Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Science Is the Refusal To Believe on the Basis of Hope

C. P. Snow? Carrie Snow? Barrington Moore Jr.?

Dear Quote Investigator: Scientific theories should be constructed from carefully gathered facts and data. The empirical process requires the subordination of credulous wishes and desires. Succinctly stated:

Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.

This statement has been ascribed to C. P. Snow (Charles Percy Snow) who famously spoke about the divide between the sciences and the humanities in his lecture on “The Two Cultures”. The comedian Carrie Snow has also received credit as has the American sociologist Barrington Moore Jr. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the ascriptions to C. P. Snow and Carrie Snow are mistaken, and QI will present conjectures about what caused these fallacious linkages.

The earliest instance known to QI appeared in an essay with a 1965 copyright date titled “Tolerance and the Scientific Outlook” by Barrington Moore Jr. The following excerpt mentioned C. P Snow, but did not credit him with the expression: 1

To pose the issue in terms of Sir Charles Snow’s “two cultures” seems to me to miss the main point, since both technicist science and academic humanism seem to me fundamentally similar ways of dodging the big problems and encapsulating the intellect in a cocoon of professional esteem. The conception of science used here will be a broad one: whatever is established by sound reasoning and evidence may belong to science. Insights from literature and philosophy become part of science as they become established. Their gropings and explorations are part of the whole rational enterprise. Only when such thinkers refuse to submit themselves to verification do they separate themselves from science. For the essence of science, I would suggest, is simply the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.

The phrase “I would suggest” signaled that Moore crafted the quotation under examination. The phrasing has been streamlined over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1969, A Critique of Pure Tolerance by Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, Essay: Tolerance and the Scientific Outlook by Barrington Moore Jr., Essay Copyright 1965, Start Page 53, Quote Page 55, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)

If I Could Remember the Names of These Particles, I Would Have Been a Botanist

Albert Einstein? Enrico Fermi? Leon M. Lederman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During the twentieth century the field of physics advanced astonishingly quickly. Researchers discovered a large number of elementary particles. A prominent physicist quipped:

If I could remember the names of all those particles, I’d be a botanist.

Did Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, or somebody else say this?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. The remark appeared in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press.

The earliest instance located by QI occurred in a 1963 lecture by the experimental physicist Leon M. Lederman delivered at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In introducing the elementary particles to a wide audience like this one, I always remember the statement of the great Enrico Fermi who said, “If I could remember the names of these particles, I would have been a botanist.” I will therefore restrict myself to a small fraction of the particles in order to keep the discussion simple. Probably the proton, the neutron, and the electron are familiar to all of you — you may even own some.

Fermi died almost a decade earlier in 1954, but he is the leading candidate. The phrasing of the expression is variable.

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Notes:

  1. 1963 January 9, Brookhaven Lecture Series on Unity of Science, BNL 787, Number 23, Neutrino Physics by Leon M. Lederman (Physics Departments, of Columbia University and Brookhaven National Laboratory), Start Page 1, Quote Page 1, Published by Office of Technical Services, Department of Commerce, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link

You’re Not the Customer; You’re the Product

Richard Serra? Carlota Fay Schoolman? Steve Atkins? Tom Johnson? Claire Wolfe? Andrew Lewis? blue_beetle? Tim O’Reilly?

Dear Quote Investigator: For decades the most powerful mass medium has been television. The internet has dramatically shifted our access to information. Nowadays, society reflects upon itself by using internet search engines. Yet, both of these fundamental channels of communication, access, and synthesis are primarily supported by advertising. A pithy expression explicates the resultant skewed perspective:

You’re not the customer; you’re the product.

Would you please explore the history of this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 the artists Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman broadcast a short video titled “Television Delivers People”. An anodyne soundtrack played while sentences in white text on a blue background slowly scrolled upward. The messages displayed thematically matched the saying under exploration. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Commercial television delivers 20 million people a minute.
In commercial broadcasting the viewer pays for the privilege of having himself sold.
It is the consumer who is consumed.
You are the product of t.v.
You are delivered to the advertiser who is the customer.
He consumes you.
The viewer is not responsible for programming——
You are the end product.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. YouTube Video, Title: Richard Serra “Television Delivers People” (1973), Authors of video: Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman, Uploaded on Feb 2, 2011, Uploaded by: KunstSpektrum, Copyright date within video: Mar 30, 1973, (Quotation starts at 0 minute 54 seconds of 6 minutes 55 seconds) (Video of scrolling text with canned soundtrack music; Text criticizes the corporate and advertiser control of television content), (Accessed on youtube.com on May 13, 2017) link

The Worm Was Punished for Early Rising

John Godfrey Saxe? Frederick Locker-Lampson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: “The early bird catches the worm” has become an irritating cliché. I love this entertaining comical response:

But the worm was punished for getting up early.

Do you know who crafted this rejoinder?

Quote Investigator: The work “Early Rising” appeared in the 1876 collection “The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe”. The stanza below expressed the unhappiness of the author with leaving his bed early in the morning: 1

Yes — bless the man who first invented sleep
(I really can’t avoid the iteration);
But blast the man, with curses loud and deep,
Whate’er the rascal’s name, or age, or station,
Who first invented, and went round advising,
That artificial cut-off, — Early Rising!

The final stanza of the poem contained the quip. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

So let us sleep, and give the Maker praise.
I like the lad who, when his father thought
To clip his morning nap by hackneyed phrase
Of vagrant worm by early songster caught,
Cried, “Served him right! — it’s not at all surprising;
The worm was punished, sir, for early rising!”

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Notes:

  1. 1876, The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe Complete in One Volume, Poem: Early Rising (Stanza Two and Final Stanza), Start Page 133, Quote Page 133 and 134, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

The Early Bird Catcheth the Worme

William Camden? Thomas Fuller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: People who enjoy waking up early in the morning and going to work cite the following adage:

The early bird gets the worm.

Would you please explore the history of this expression?

Quote Investigator: English historian William Camden published “Remaines Concerning Britaine” in the 17th century, and this adage appeared in the fifth edition in 1636. Here is a contiguous sampling from the list of proverbs. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Thoughts be free from toll.
Trust is the Mother of deceit.
The gray Mare is the better horse.
The lame tongue gets nothing.
The early bird catcheth the worme.

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Notes:

  1. 1636, Remaines Concerning Britaine: Their Languages, Names, Surnames,… by William Camden, Fifth Impression, Section: Proverbs, Quote Page 307, Printed by Thomas Harper for John Waterson, London. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link

The Enormous Multiplication of Books in Every Branch of Knowledge is One of the Greatest Evils of This Age

Edgar Allan Poe? Alfred Smee? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of new books has increased vertiginously in recent years, but even in the nineteenth century critics lamented an oversupply. Did the major literary figure Edgar Allan Poe complain that the proliferation of books was “one of the greatest evils” of his age?

Quote Investigator: Edgar Allan Poe was an early employee of the “Southern Literary Messenger” of Richmond, Virginia. In 1836 he wrote a review of a legal tome titled “Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery of Maryland”, and his first sentence provided a harsh assessment: 1

We cannot perceive any sufficient reason for the publication of this book.

Poe’s piece included a provocative general statement on this topic. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Now, the enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader’s way piles of lumber, in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful matter, peradventure interspersed. In no department have the complaints of this evil been louder or more just, than in the law.

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Notes:

  1. 1836 October, Southern Literary Messenger, Volume 2, Number 11, Bland’s Chancery Reports (Book Review of “Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery of Maryland” by Theodorick Bland) Quote Page 731, Column 2, Publisher and Proprietor T. H. White, Richmond, Virginia. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Attempt To Teach a Pig To Sing; It Wastes Your Time and Annoys the Pig

Mark Twain? Robert Heinlein? Paul Dickson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Teaching a pig to sing is a futile task that aggravates the porcine student according to a popular saying. Luminary Mark Twain and science fiction author Robert Heinlein have received credit for this adage. Would you please determine the accurate ascription and the original context?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 Robert Heinlein published “Time Enough for Love” featuring a main character, Lazarus Long, who appeared in several other novels by the author. Long was a colorful individualist who had been genetically selected to live for centuries. He delivered the adage during a discussion of avarice and deceit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have never swindled a man. At most I kept quiet and let him swindle himself. This does no harm, as a fool cannot be protected from his folly. If you attempt to do so, you will not only arouse his animosity but also you will be attempting to deprive him of whatever benefit he is capable of deriving from experience. Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Thus, the context was the difficulty and pointlessness of communicating a lesson that an individual is unwilling or unready to learn.

A different saying with a distinct meaning is sometimes confused with this adage. QI has a separate article on this topic: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1974 (Copyright 1973), Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long by Robert A. Heinlein, Section: Prelude II, Quote Page 31, A Berkley Medallion Book: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)