In the Struggle for Survival, the Fittest Win Out at the Expense of Their Rivals

Charles Darwin? History Textbook? Anonymous?

conflict09Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a newspaper article I saw the following statement attributed to the famous scientist Charles Darwin:

In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.

The article cited “On the Origin of Species” by Darwin, but I examined several editions of that landmark treatise and have been unable to find the quotation. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Charles Darwin made the above statement.

The scholars working on the authoritative “Darwin Correspondence Project” based at Cambridge University have placed the statement into a set of “Six things Darwin never said”. 1 The members of the project have constructed an important database of 7,500 letters written or received by Charles Darwin.

The earliest appearance of the statement found by QI was located within a history textbook titled “Civilization Past and Present” by T. Walter Wallbank, Alastair M. Taylor and Nels M. Bailkey.

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Notes:

  1. Website: Darwin Correspondence Project, Article title: Six things Darwin never said – and one he did, Date of article on website: No date is specified, Internet Archive Wayback Machine date: December 18, 2009, Website description: Website includes basic descriptions of more than 15,000 letters known to have been written by or to Charles Darwin, and the complete texts of around half of those. (Accessed darwinproject.ac.uk on December 18, 2014) link

A Rainy Day, Lost Luggage, and Tangled Christmas Tree Lights

Maya Angelou? H. Jackson Brown Jr.? A 52-Year-Old Person?

lights12Dear Quote Investigator: Each of us must occasionally experience irritating situations. Maturity and self-control help to keep a person steady. A quotation touching on this theme has been attributed to the prominent poet and memoirist Maya Angelou. Here are two versions:

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights

I have been unable to determine where or when Angelou said this. Are these really her words?

Quote Investigator: Probably not.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1991 compilation by the best-selling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. titled “Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff”. The book printed a set of comical and astute sayings from individuals who were identified only by age. Here is a sampling of four remarks from Brown’s book. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy holiday, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. —Age 52

I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. —Age 53

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. —Age 64

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be a pain. —Age 82

The phrase “rainy holiday” was used instead of “rainy day”. A holidaymaker hoping for sun would certainly be aggravated with downpours.

By 2003 all four of these statements from different people had implausibly been reassigned to Maya Angelou.

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Notes:

  1. 1991, Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff, Written and compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.,”luggage” Quote Page 85,”parents” Quote Page 31, “mitt” Quote Page 47,”pains” Quote Page 25, Published by Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee. (Items have been selected and ordered to match the sequence in the March 2003 Maya Angelou citation) (Verified with scans)

The Person Who Never Makes a Mistake Will Never Make Anything

Theodore Roosevelt? Albert Einstein? Benjamin Franklin? Samuel Smiles? Josh Billings? Mr. Phelps? G. K. Chesterton? Robert Smith Surtees? Joseph Conrad? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

samsmiles11Dear Quote Investigator: Mistakes are unavoidable in the life of an active and vital person. Several adages highlight this important theme:

1) A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything.
2) The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
3) A fellow who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing.

Many famous names have been linked to sayings of this type including Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: This is a large and complex topic. Below is a summary that presents a list of expressions that fit into this family together with dates and attributions:

1832: He who never makes an effort, never risks a failure. (Anonymous)

1859: He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. (Samuel Smiles)

1874: The man who never makes enny blunders seldum makes enny good hits. (Josh Billings)

1889: A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything. (Attributed: Mr. Phelps)

1896: It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes. (Joseph Conrad)

1900: The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything. (Solid Attribution: Theodore Roosevelt)

1901: Show me a man who has never made a mistake, and I will show you one who has never tried anything. (Anonymous)

1903: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Poor Richard Junior’s Philosophy)

1911: The fellow who never makes any failures, never makes any successes either. (Anonymous)

1927: Every man makes mistakes; they say a man who never makes mistakes never makes anything else. (G. K. Chesterton)

1936: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Flawed Attribution: Benjamin Franklin)

1969: The man who never makes a mistake must get plenty tired of doing nothing. (Anonymous)

1993: The man who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing. (Weak Attribution: Will Rogers)

1995: A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. (Weak Attribution: Albert Einstein.)

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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They Riot in the Streets Inflamed with Wild Notions; Their Morals Are Decayed

Plato? Creed C. Black? William J. Brennan Jr.? Theodore Hesburgh? Apocryphal?

plato11Dear Quote Investigator: The following questioning and unhappy words have been attributed to the ancient Greek sage Plato:

What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?

This popular quotation illustrates the millennium-spanning ubiquity of complaints about the misbehavior and immorality of the younger members of society. Strangely, I have been unable to find a citation that solidly connects this commentary to Plato. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Plato made the statement above.

The earliest instance located by QI was spoken at the Convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors held in April 1968. A panel titled “What about the Generation Gap?” was moderated by the newspaper executive Creed C. Black of “The Chicago Daily News”. His introductory remarks employed the quotation: 1

I just came from breakfast with members of our panel, and I think we are in for a very interesting morning. To set the stage we might have a text of what we are going to talk about, and it is this:

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents, they ignore the laws, they ride in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decayed. What is to become of them?”

These are not the words, believe it or not, of Program Chairman Paul Neville. They are the words of Plato and were written originally in Greek about 400 years before the birth of Christ. So, the generation gap is not exactly new, but it does continue.

The above passage differed from the common modern version in two ways. The word “ride” was used instead of “riot”, and the word “decayed” was used instead of “decaying”. These differences may reflect an imperfect transcription of a speech.

QI believes that Creed probably saw an earlier published instance somewhere, but where he obtained the quotation is not certain. This article presents a snapshot of what is currently known, and future research may result in further clarifications.

Another statement of this type was previously examined by QI. It began: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority.” These words have been misattributed to Socrates.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1968, Problems of Journalism: Proceedings of the 1968 Convention American Society of Newspaper Editors, Convention held at The Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C. on April 17 to 19, 1968, (Panel titled “What about the Generation Gap?” held Thursday April 18, 1968), (Speaker: Panel Moderator: Creed C. Black of Chicago Daily News), Quote Page 105, Published by American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), New York. (Verified on paper; special thanks to a helpful librarian at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa)

Nothing is More Unfair than to Judge the Men of the Past by the Ideas of the Present

Barbara W. Tuchman? Denys Arthur Winstanley? Anonymous?

trojan08Dear Quote Investigator: The popular historian Barbara W. Tuchman suggested that it was unfair to “judge men of the past by the ideas of the present”. She credited this interesting stance to an unnamed English historian. Yet, I have been unable to determine the identity of this astute chronicler; there was no footnote. Would you please trace this statement?

Quote Investigator: Barbara W. Tuchman was quoting the words of Denys Arthur Winstanley of The University of Cambridge as detailed in the 1912 citation presented further below.

Similar thoughts have been expressed on multiple occasions in the past. For example, in 1821 a literary journal printed an article titled “On the Character of Socrates” which included the following passage: 1

…we think nothing is more unfair than to judge of the sentiments of one age by the improved moral perceptions of another…

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1821, The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Volume 1, On the Character of Socrates, Start Page 555, Quote Page 566, Henry Colburn and Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link

A Shortage of Sand in the Sahara

Milton Friedman? William F. Buckley Jr.? French Sage? Alfred E. Kahn? Anonymous?

desert10Dear Quote Investigator: The well-known economist Milton Friedman was often critical of governmental power. The following saying has been attributed to him:

If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.

I have been unable to find a precise citation for this statement. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1980 Milton Friedman wrote a partially matching statement in his “Newsweek” column that included the thematic phrase about Saharan sand, and he expressed a comparable attitude. A detailed citation is given further below.

The earliest instance of the vivid phrase “shortage of sand in the Sahara” located by QI was printed in 1951 in “Labour” magazine which was issued by the Trades Union Congress in London. A group of workers from Birmingham visited Sweden and were hosted by the Gothenburg Trades Council. The visitors commented on a shortage of timber; however, the overall context did not disparage government: 1

The visitors were not surprised to find a housing shortage in Sweden; they knew before they went that the problem was world-wide. What they were surprised to find was a shortage of timber. “It sounds like a shortage of sand in the Sahara,” they commented. Then it was explained that the Swedish home market was going short to enable the country to export much of its valuable timber.

In 1971 the conservative magazine editor and commentator William F. Buckley Jr. published “Cruising Speed: A Documentary” which recorded in diary form the incidents and events in Buckley’s life during one week in November 1970. Buckley relayed a joke castigating communism: 2

Curiously, the failures of Communism are more often treated as a joke than as a tragedy. (As in the current jollity: What would happen if the Communists occupied the Sahara? Answer: Nothing—for 50 years. Then there would be a shortage of sand.)

This was the earliest strongly matching instance of the quip found by QI. The target was not the U.S. government, but an archetypal communist government. The creator of the joke was anonymous, and the duration of the delay was 50 years instead of five.

During succeeding decades the barb has evolved and different governments have been excoriated. In addition, the time delay mentioned has varied.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1951 January, Labour: The TUC Magazine, Volume 1, Number 5 (Revised Series), ‘Brum’ men get litter lesson, Start Page 154, Quote Page 154, Column 1, Publisher by the Trades Union Congress, London, England. (Verified with scans; great thanks Bonnie Taylor-Blake and the University of North Carolina library system)
  2. 1971, Cruising Speed—A Documentary by William F. Buckley Jr., Quote Page 213, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)

It Is the Artists of This World, the Feelers and Thinkers, Who Will Ultimately Save Us

Leonard Bernstein? Apocryphal?

tanglewood08Dear Quote Investigator: The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of societal upheaval and uncertainty in the United States. The prominent conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein who was well-known for crafting the music of “West Side Story” delivered a speech during which he asserted that only the artists of the world could save the world. I would like to include an excerpt from the speech in a book, but I have not been able to trace it. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: On June 28, 1970 Leonard Bernstein gave an address at the opening exercises of the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, and shortly afterward excerpts were printed in “The Boston Globe”. The article title mentioned Bernstein’s theme of hope and the artist’s role in a chaotic world: 1

It is the artists of this world, the feelers and thinkers, who will ultimately save us, who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing, and shout the big dreams. Only the artists can turn the “not-yet” into reality.

How do you do it? Find out what you can do well, uniquely well, and then do it for all you’re worth. And I don’t mean “doing your own thing” in the hip sense. That’s passivity, that’s dropping out, that’s not doing anything. I’m talking about doing, which means serving your community, whether it’s a tiny town or six continents.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1970 July 05, Boston Globe, Bernstein’s message: hope: Tanglewood address stresses artist’s role in chaotic world by Leonard Bernstein (Advisor to Tanglewood, Conductor Laureate, New York Philharmonic), (Extracts from an address given at the opening exercises at Tanglewood, June 28, 1970), Start Page A19, Quote Page A22, Column 8, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

Give the People What They Want and They’ll Come

Humorist: Red Skelton? George Jessel? Ace Goodman? Groucho Marx? Bert Lahr? James Bacon?

jessel07Funeral: Harry Cohn? Louis B. Mayer?

Dear Quote Investigator: A show business platitude states that success at the box office is achievable by simply giving the people what they want.

A harsh comical anecdote about a funeral reinterpreted this saying. The memorial service of a powerful and disliked movie mogul was surprisingly well attended. One ambivalent mourner asked another to explain the existence of the large crowd of attendees. The acerbic response was:

Give the public what they want, and they’ll come to see it.

Would you please explore this tale? What was the name of the movie potentate who had died? Who was telling the joke?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in “The Washington Post” in 1941. A columnist relayed a quip made by the popular actor and comedian George Jessel: 1

And there was George Jessel’s box-office-ish remark about a funeral which was drawing enormous crowds of people into a church door as he passed—”Well, there you are, you see,” said Jessel. “Give ‘em what they want.”

The text above was located by top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake. Jessel was presenting a joke, and he was not actually attending a funeral. The adage was recognizable to readers even when it was truncated. The memorialized individual was nameless in the quip.

In later years this comical remark was linked to other wits such as Red Skelton, Ace Goodman, and Groucho Marx. In addition, the barb was precisely aimed at the prominent movie producers Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1942 March 8, Washington Post, Strictly Screwball by Katharine Brush, Quote Page L1, Column 3 and 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

Duty Comes Before Pleasure, But Only in the Dictionary

Harold L. Spence? Anonymous?

pddict08Dear Quote Investigator: You examined an adage about success and work that cleverly referred to their alphabetical order. I’ve seen a different joke about duty and pleasure:

Duty comes before pleasure, but only in the dictionary.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this type of remark known to QI was printed in several newspapers in 1912. For example, “The Iola Register” of Kansas published a set of “Quaker Meditations” with an acknowledgement to “The Philadelphia Record” which included the following three statements. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The world is always eager to give a man a boost when he gets close to the top.

The one place where duty always comes before pleasure is in the dictionary.

Few things are perfect. Even the longest way ’round has its shortcomings.

The above remark was an anti-proverb that slyly subverted the preexisting didactic sayings: “Duty before pleasure” and “Business before pleasure”. The initial instances were anonymous. Top language columnist Ben Zimmer who writes for “The Wall Street Journal” identified this early version of the anti-proverb and shared it with QI.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1912 July 29, The Iola Register, Quaker Meditations (From the Philadelphia Record), Quote Page 4, Column 3, Iola, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

Animal Rights and Beings from Another Planet

George Bernard Shaw? John Harris? Brigid Brophy? Apocryphal?

cow09Dear Quote investigator: George Bernard Shaw was a strong advocate of vegetarianism who was greatly concerned with animal welfare. The following statement attributed to Shaw encouraged the reader to embrace an abstract extraplanetary perspective and asked the reader to condemn the instrumental use of animals for food, clothing, and sport:

If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth — beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals — would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals?

I have been unable to locate this passage in the writings of Shaw. Would please examine its provenance?

Quote investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the claim that George Bernard Shaw wrote the words above. Indeed, QI hypothesizes that the fallacious ascription originated with the misreading of a passage from a volume published in 1979. Details are given further below.

The earliest strongly matching evidence located by QI was published in a 1972 collection called “Animals, Men, and Morals: An Enquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-Humans”. An article titled “Killing for Food” by John Harris argued that there was “no justification for continuing to eat meat”. Near the end of his essay Harris asked readers to contemplate an alien perspective: 1

I should like to leave those of you who remain unconvinced with a final thought. Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth, beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat the animals you breed, keep and kill for food?

QI believes that the modern quotation was derived from the passage above although the wording was somewhat different. Harris should be credited with this statement and not Shaw.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1972, Animals, Men, and Morals: An Enquiry Into the Maltreatment of Non-Humans, Edited by Stanley Godlovitch, Roslind Godlovitch, and John Harris, Article title: Killing for Food, Article author: John Harris, Start Page 97, Quote Page 110, Publisher by Taplinger Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper)