Life Is Just One Damn Thing After Another

Mark Twain? Lilian Bell? Elbert Hubbard? Frank Ward O’Malley? Bruce Calvert? H. L. Mencken? Charles Dickens? Edna St. Vincent Millay? Anonymous?

twisty10Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement of exasperation and resignation has been attributed to the luminary Mark Twain, the aphorist Elbert Hubbard, and the journalist Frank Ward O’Malley:

Life is just one damn thing after another.

This situation is confusing. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong evidence appeared in 1909 when several instances were published in periodicals. In addition, a book titled “The Concentrations of Bee” by Lilian Bell included the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Bob has a motto on his wall which says ‘Life is just one damned thing after another!'” said Jimmie. But I refused to smile. I was too distinctly annoyed.

The lead time for publishing a book has traditionally been lengthy; hence, Lilian Bell may have written her novel before 1909. Bell stated within the text that the adage was already being posted on walls.

On March 5, 1909 “The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader” of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania printed the small filler item shown below. This was the earliest instance known to QI with a complete date; it was located by top researcher Bill Mullins, and it was included in the important reference “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”: 2 3

life350During the following weeks, months, and years the popular saying was widely disseminated. In December 1909 Elbert Hubbard printed the expression without attribution in a journal he was editing called “The Philistine”. In March 1910 a man named Bruce Calvert was credited with the saying. In 1919 the prominent cultural commentator H. L. Mencken ascribed the phrase to Mark Twain. After the death of Frank Ward O’Malley in 1932 some obituary notices credited him with the saying. In 1942 Mencken reconsidered his judgement and linked the saying to both O’Malley and Hubbard. Detailed information is given further below.

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  1. 1909, The Concentrations of Bee by Lilian Bell, Quote Page 241, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1909 March 5, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 144, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

That Works Very Well in Practice, But How Does It Work In Theory?

Heidelberg Professor? Chairman of an Irish Company? Claude T. Bissell? Sean MacReamoinn? Walter Heller? Garret FitzGerald? Ernest Hollings? Anonymous?

theory07Quote Investigator: There is a fundamental distinction between theory and practice. Sometimes a strategy that should work based on theoretical considerations fails when implemented in practice. This insight has been comically twisted to generate the following quip:

That works very well in practice, but how does it work out in theory?

The speaker of the line above has commonly been identified as an economist. Would you please examine the history of this witticism?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match for this joke located by QI was published in a 1911 issue of a magazine titled “The Youth’s Companion: For All the Family” which was based in Boston. Massachusetts. The humorous anecdote was set in Germany. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A Professional Paradox.

The study of science is not necessarily all gray; it may have its rosy patches. It is said that a learned professor of Heidelberg forbade his students the repetition of a certain experiment.

“But,” they protested, “it has always been successful.”
“Nevertheless,” he said, “its position among experiments is absolutely untenable from an intellectual point of view.”
The boys stared.
“The thing may answer very well in practise,” said the professor, “but it is not sound in theory.”

In the following month the item above was further disseminated when it was reprinted in newspapers such as the “The Daily Herald” of Gulfport, Mississippi 2 and the “Springfield Daily News” of Springfield, Massachusetts. 3 This jest was not an exact match for the quip being explored, but later expressions would have been easily derivable from the tale either directly or indirectly.

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  1. 1911 October 5, The Youth’s Companion: For All the Family, Volume 85, Number 40, A Professional Paradox, Quote Page 515, Column 2, Perry Mason Company, Boston. Massachusetts.(HathiTrust Full View) link link
  2. 1911 November 24, The Daily Herald (Gulfport Daily Herald), A Professional Paradox, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Gulfport, Mississippi. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1911 November 24, Springfield Daily News, A Professional Paradox, Quote Page 18, Column 5, Springfield, Massachusetts. 9GenealogyBank)

Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime

Chinese Proverb? Maimonides? Lao-Tzu? Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie? Italian Adage? Native American Saying? Mao Zedong?

fishing08Dear Quote Investigator: The following piece of proverbial wisdom is remarkably astute:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

The origin of this thought is highly contested. I have seen claims that that the adage is Chinese, Native American, Italian, Indian, or Biblical. Sometimes it is linked to Lao-Tzu, Maimonides, or Mao Zedong. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The general principle of alleviating poverty by facilitating self-sufficiency has a long history. The 12th-century philosopher Maimonides wrote about eight degrees in the duty of charity. In 1826 an explication of the eighth degree was published in a journal called “The Religious Intelligencer”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Lastly, the eighth and the most meritorious of all, is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty, namely, to assist the reduced brother, either by a considerable gift or loan of money, or by teaching him a trade, or by putting him in the way of business, so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding up his hand for charity. . .

The passage above provided a conceptual match, but it did not mention the vivid task of fishing as an illustrative and archetypal endeavor. In 1885 a statement that did refer to fishing and partially matched the modern adage appeared in the novel “Mrs. Dymond” by the popular novelist Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie. As the daughter of the prominent writer William Makepeace Thackeray she was continuing the family tradition of a life of letters. The second half of Ritchie’s statement did not directly refer to consuming fish: 2

‘He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I suppose the Patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn. But these very elementary principles are apt to clash with the leisure of the cultivated classes.’

The above passage from Ritchie achieved wide dissemination because the novel was serialized in the leading periodicals “Macmillan’s Magazine” of London and “Littell’s Living Age” of Boston, Massachusetts in 1885. 3 4 This important citation in “Mrs. Dymond” was mentioned by top researcher Ralph Keyes in the reference work “The Quote Verifier”. 5

The adage continued to evolve for decades. In 1911 an instance used the following phrase in the second half: “he will be richer all his life”. Finally, in 1961 an instance employed the phrase “that will feed him for a lifetime” which was similar to modern versions.

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  1. 1826 March 25, The Religious Intelligencer, Volume 10, Number 43, Ladder of Benevolence, Quote Page 681, Column 1, Published by Nathan Whiting, New Haven, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1885, Mrs. Dymond by Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Richmond Ritchie) aka Anne Isabella Ritchie, Quote Page 342, Published by Smith, Elder, & Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1885 August, Macmillan’s Magazine, Mrs. Dymond, (Serialized version of the novel), Start Page 241, Quote Page 246, Volume 52, Macmillan and Co, London and New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1885 September 5, Littell’s Living Age, Mrs. Dymond by Mrs Ritchie (Serialized with acknowledgement to Macmillan’s Magazine), Start Page 602, Quote Page 606, Published by Littell & Co., Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 65, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

Teach Them to Yearn for the Vast and Endless Sea

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

build11Dear Quote Investigator: The French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was best known internationally as the author of “Le Petit Prince” (“The Little Prince”). Many self-help guides and books about management now contain a saying about motivation and organization that often has been attributed to Saint-Exupéry. Here are three versions:

If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

I have not been able to find a good citation, and I also have been unable to ascertain the original French text. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have not found a close match for this statement in the works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. However, there was a very interesting thematic match in the 1948 book “Citadelle” (“The Wisdom of the Sands). In section LXXV Saint-Exupéry wrote about an individual who wished to build a boat. He imparted to a group of people a love of sailing, and the group spontaneously split to perform appropriate subtasks: 1

Celui-là tissera des toiles, l’autre dans la forêt par l’éclair de sa hache couchera l’arbre. L’autre, encore, forgera des clous, et il en sera quelque part qui observeront les étoiles afin d’apprendre à gouverner. Et tous cependant ne seront qu’un. Créer le navire ce n’est point tisser les toiles, forger les clous, lire les astres, mais bien donner le goût de la mer qui est un, et à la lumière duquel il n’est plus rien qui soit contradictoire mais communauté dans l’amour.

Here is one possible rendering of this text into English:

One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.

QI conjectures that this section of “Citadelle” inspired the construction of the modern quotation although one or more intermediate steps may have occurred. It was possible that someone read the section and created a paraphrase or commentary. The modern quotation might be based on this posited intermediate text. Saint-Exupéry himself may have written a text that was closer to the modern quotation although it has not been located.

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  1. 1959, Title: Oeuvres, Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Work: Citadelle, Section: LXXV (75) Quote Page 687, Publisher: Gallimard, Paris, France. (Reprint of text first published in 1948) (Verified on paper)

Just Walk Beside Me and Be My Friend

Albert Camus? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

albert07Dear Quote Investigator: The French writer and philosopher Albert Camus was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1957. His influential works have been called absurdist and existentialist although he personally rejected the label existentialist. The following lines have been widely attributed to him:

Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.

I have tried unsuccessfully to find a citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to locate this quotation in the writings of Albert Camus who died in 1960. Currently, the ascription to Camus has no substantive support.

The earliest strong match found by QI appeared in the “Quincy Sun” newspaper of Quincy, Massachusetts in December 1971. A columnist named Dr. William F. Knox who was identified as a “Personal Counselor” wrote about being a good father to a child in grade school. Knox learned about the saying from a fellow counselor, and no attribution was specified. Ellipses were present in the original text. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Another counselor handed me recently a great little thought…

“Don’t walk in front of me…I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Walk beside me…just be my friend.”

Maybe that’s what “being a father” is all about…just being a friend.

Less than a week later “The Evening Times” of Trenton, New Jersey published an article about a residential drug treatment facility. The saying was printed on a sign, and the words were attributed to Albert Camus: 2

There are many signs throughout the center. One from Camus reads: “Don’t walk in front of me — I may not follow; don’t walk behind — I may not lead; walk beside me and just be my friend.”

During the ensuing decades the phrasing has varied, and sometimes the first two clauses have been re-ordered. By the 1990s a French version of the passage was circulating, but QI conjectures that the text was derived from the English version and not vice versa.

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  1. 1971 December 2, Quincy Sun, Living Today by Dr. William F Knox (Personal Counselor), Quote Page 11, Column 1, Quincy, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive and Old Fulton)
  2. 1971 December 8, Trenton Evening Times, TODAY Is For Dropping Back In: A Resident Center For Addicts by James Labig, Subsection: The Discipline, Quote Page 49, Column 2, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)

Missionaries and Cannibals

Oscar Wilde? Richard Le Gallienne? Reverend Sydney Smith? Apocryphal?

smith10Dear Quote Investigator: One of the more outrageous remarks attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde concerned missionaries, cannibals, and the supply of food. Did Wilde really make this facetious remark?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and the earliest evidence located by QI appeared in 1907 when a posthumous multi-volume collection of his works was published. A friend of Wilde’s named Richard Le Gallienne wrote the introduction to one of the volumes, and he described a conversation he heard while dining with Wilde. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

To startle and shock the bourgeoisie was an amusement of which he never tired. He delighted to watch for the “Do you really mean it, Mr. Wilde?” look on the face of some guileless or stupid listener. I remember being at a dinner-party on one occasion when he gravely propounded the theory that missionaries were the divinely provided food for those desolate cannibal islands where other food was scarce. “O are you really serious, Mr. Wilde?” said an innocent young thing at his side. Anything more profoundly serious than Wilde’s expression in answer cannot be conceived.

Although this testimony was given after Wilde’s death QI believes the ascription was plausible. Le Gallienne later wrote that the remark was made by Wilde in the presence of his wife, and she responded with incredulity.

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  1. 1907, The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Uniform Edition, Poems: Including Ravenna, the Ballad of Reading Gaol, the Sphinx, Etc, Section: Introduction by Richard Le Gallienne, Quote Page 14 and 15, Published by A. R. Keller & Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link

Wagner Has Some Beautiful Moments But Terrible Quarter-Hours

Critic: Gioachino Rossini? Mr. Archer? Charles Gounod? Apocryphal?
Criticized: Richard Wagner? Signor Tamberlik? François Rabelais? M. Chelles?

wagner08Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent Italian composer Gioachino Rossini reportedly delivered an amusingly harsh assessment of the famous German composer Richard Wagner. Here are three versions:

1) Wagner’s operas contain wonderful moments but terrible half hours.
2) Wagner has great moments, but some pretty awful half-hours.
3) Wagner had some fine moments but ugly quarter-hours.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This quip can be expressed in many ways; hence, it has been difficult to trace. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an 1861 issue of a London weekly called “The Illustrated Times”. The criticism was aimed at an operatic tenor named Signor Tamberlik, and the key phrases were presented in French instead of English. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . Signor Tamberlik, sings more tremulously this year than ever. He would always seem admirable if we never heard him in anything but the “Otello” duet, where his quivering voice suggests naturally enough the emotion of jealous rage. In other operas he has, according to a French expression, his “beaux moments,” but he has also his “fichus quarts d’heure.”

One way to render this statement into English is the following:

He has his “beautiful moments”, but he also has his “ugly quarter-hours”.

In 1872 an instance in this family of jokes was published in a French-language newspaper in New Orleans, Louisiana called “Le Carillon”. The statement was grouped together with other remarks in a column titled “Pensees de Larochefaux-Col”: 2

Rabelais, si l’on en croit la légende, avait de bons moments, mais de fichus quarts d’heure.

In 1876 a German-language book about Italian composers was published in Berlin titled “Italienische Tondichter von Palestrina bis auf die Gegenwart”. Gioachino Rossini was credited with a remark about Wagner: 3

“O!” rief Rossini aus, “in dieser Beziehung bin ich ganz Ihrer Meinung und Niemandist entferner davon, die Origianlität des Schöpfers des Lohengrin anzuzweifeln, als ich; nur daß es uns der Componist mitunter recht schwer macht, das Schöne, was wir ihm verdanken, in dem Chaos von Tönen, das seine Opern enthalten, aufzufinden. Sie werden es selbst schon erfahren haben: Mr. Wagner a de beaux moments, mais de mauvais quart d’heures! Dennoch bin ich seiner bisherigen Laufbahn mit gespanntem Interesse gefolgt.”

Below is one possible rendering of the above passage into English

“O!” cried out Rossini, “in this connection I am completely of your opinion and no one is further from doubting the originality of the creator of Lohengrin than I; only that the composer sometimes makes it right difficult for us to find the beauty, which we thank him for, in the chaos of the tones, that his operas contain. You will have heard it yourself already: Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarter-hours. Nevertheless I have followed his career up to now with excited interest.”

The text above contained the earliest linkage of the quip to Rossini known to QI. Lohengrin was first performed in 1850, and the book was published in 1876. So if Rossini made the remark above then he must have spoken sometime between those two dates. In addition, the joke schema was circulating by 1861. The authenticity of the ascription was not clear to QI. Future researchers may discover more evidence.

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  1. 1861 April 20, The Illustrated Times: Weekly Newspaper, Volume 12, Opera and Concerts, Quote Page 257, Published at the Office, Catherine Street, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1872 December 8, Le Carillon, Pensees de Larochefaux-Col, Quote Page 6, Column 2, New Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1876, Title: Italienische Tondichter von Palestrina bis auf die Gegenwart: Eine Reihe von Vorträgen gehalten in den Jahren 1874 u. 1875, Author: Dr. Emil Naumann, Quote Page 543 and 544, Publisher: Robert Oppenheim, Berlin, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link

A Teacher Is Never a Giver of “Truth”; He Is a Guide, a Pointer to the Truth

Bruce Lee? Apocryphal?

lee08Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please help me to trace a statement attributed to the charismatic superstar martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. The first phrase in the quotation presented Lee’s viewpoint on education and mentoring:

A teacher is never a giver of truth . . .

I have seen different versions of the full comment, but I have not seen a precise citation.

Dear Quote Investigator: In 1971 “Black Belt” magazine published an essay by Bruce Lee titled “Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate” which included his provocative remark about teaching. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A teacher, a really good sensei, is never a giver of “truth”; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that the student must discover for himself. A good teacher, therefore, studies each student individually and encourages the student to explore himself, both internally and externally, until, ultimately, the student is integrated with his being.

The passage above was the earliest close match located by QI. A somewhat different version was printed in “Black Belt” magazine in 1988 which may have produced some confusion.

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  1. 1971 September, Black Belt, Volume 9, Number 9, Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate by Bruce Lee, Start Page 24, Quote Page 27, Column 2, Published by Black Belt, Inc., Los Angeles, California. (Google Books Full View) link

Even If What You’re Working On Doesn’t Go Anywhere, It Will Help You with the Next Thing You’re Doing

Cormac McCarthy novelist? Cormac McCarthy musician?

cormac11Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone has worked on projects with ambitious goals that remained unfulfilled. The following quotation helps me to maintain an optimistic perspective:

Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing. Make yourself available for something to happen. Give it a shot.

These words have been attributed to the acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy who wrote “No Country for Old Men”, “The Road”, “Blood Meridian”, and “The Orchard Keeper”. Yet, I have not been able to determine where it was written or spoken. Would you please clarify the source of this quotation?

Quote Investigator: This quotation should not be ascribed to the novelist Cormac McCarthy. Instead, the remark should be credited to a musician with an identical name. In 2006 the “Press-Republican” of Plattsburgh, New York published an article titled “Cormac McCarthy, 21st-Century Troubadour” that included an interview with the singer and songwriter of folk music. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

McCarthy writes songs the good old-fashioned way. He finds something he wants to say and works on saying it.

“But every once in awhile a song will just come out, almost whole by itself. I just rewrite it to clean it up. But most of the time, I find a phrase or an idea that I like and I just work on it, put it down for awhile if I’m not going anywhere.”

As far as process, the act of doing gets his juices going.

“Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing,” McCarthy said. “Make yourself available for something to happen. Give it a shot.”

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  1. 2006 March 2, Press-Republican, Cormac McCarthy, 21st-Century Troubadour – Cormac McCarthy performs intimate gig at Palmer Street by Robin Caudell, Plattsburgh, New York. (NewsBank Access World News)

Any Time You See Anything Big and Working Well, You Want To Take It Over

Winston Churchill? Clement Attlee? Emmanuel Shinwell? Apocryphal?

fountain10Dear Quote Investigator: There was an extraordinary and ribald conversation between Winston Churchill and his political opponent Clement Attlee that supposedly took place in the men’s room of the House of Commons. Was this event authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in the 1965 memoir “The Education of a Broadcaster” by Harry Bannister who was an executive in the radio and television broadcasting industries in America. Bannister’s version of the anecdote featured Winston Churchill and Emmanuel Shinwell who was a prominent Labour politician and British trade union official. The Labour party nationalized the mining industry and other important segments of the British economy during the 1940s. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I can’t help but be reminded of what Winston Churchill said to Emmanuel Shinwell. Shinwell had been a member of Churchill’s wartime Cabinet, but there was never any love lost between them. One time Shinwell was in the men’s room of the House of Commons when Churchill entered. There was no one else there, but Churchill walked right by Shinwell to the farthest end.

“I say, Winnie,” said Shinwell, “I hope there’s nothing personal between us.”

And Churchill replied, “I don’t take chances, Mannie. I know you. Any time you see anything big and working well, you want to take it over.”

In subsequent years the anecdote evolved, and in modern times the powerful Labour Prime Minister Clement Atlee has usually been identified as the conversational participant instead of Shinwell. For example, in 1979 “The Journal of the Chartered Institution of Building Services” published the following instance: 2

There is a story of Churchill entering the men’s room in the House of Commons when Clement Atlee was already using it. When Churchill carefully went to the far end Atlee remonstrated that this was a little unfriendly. “Trouble with you lot,” said Churchill, “is that the moment you see anything big you want to nationalise it.”

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  1. 1965, The Education of a Broadcaster by Harry Bannister, Quote Page 279, Simon and Schuster, New York. (The name “Emanuel” was misspelled as “Emmanuel” in the original text)(Verified on paper)
  2. 1979 July, The Journal of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Sideliner by Ted Happold (Professor of Building Engineering at Bath University School of Architecture & Building Engineering), Quote Page 15, Column 3, Building Services Publications Ltd, Fleet Street, London. (Verified on paper)