Two Kinds of Fools: This Is Old, Therefore It Is Good. This Is New, Therefore It Is Better

William Ralph Inge? John Brunner? Bishop of Ripon? Anonymous?

Quote Investigator: There are two different types of fools. One naively embraces and extolls everything that is old; the other credulously praises everything that is new. This insight has been ascribed to William Ralph Inge who was a professor at Cambridge and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It has also been attributed to the influential British science fiction author John Brunner. Would you please tell me the precise phrasing of this thought and who should receive credit?

Dear Quote Investigator: William Ralph Inge who was widely known as Dean Inge wrote a long-lived column for the “Evening Standard” in London. Many pieces were collected in “Lay Thoughts of a Dean” and “More Lay Thoughts of a Dean”. The second volume contained articles published between 1928 and 1930 including an essay “Some Wise Saws” featuring the following adage: 1

There are two kinds of fools. One says, “This is old, therefore it is good”; the other says, “This is new, therefore it is better.”

John Brunner included a version of this saying in his 1975 novel “The Shockwave Rider”, but he credited Dean Inge. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In 1897 “The Yorkshire Post” of West Yorkshire, England reported on a speech delivered by the Bishop of Ripon at Yorkshire College. He presented a thematically related statement that was more comprehensive because it mentioned four cases instead of two: 2

They ought not to be led astray by the false notion that because a thing was old, therefore it must be good, nor yet by the other folly that because a thing was old therefore it must be bad; nor by the folly of the modern, that because it was new it must be good, nor yet by the folly of the obsolete gentleman who said that because it was new it must be bad.

Dean Inge’s adage was reprinted in multiple periodicals after its 1931 appearance. For example, “The Lethbridge Herald” of Alberta, Canada shared the statement in July 1935, 3 “The Current Local” of Van Buren, Missouri shared it in August 1935 4 and the “Western Mail” of South Glamorgan, Wales shared it in September 1940. 5 In each case Dean Inge received credit.

In 1945 “The Reader’s Digest” printed a slightly altered version with “fool” instead of “fools”: 6

There are two kinds of fool. One says, “This is old, therefore it is good.” The other says, “This is new, therefore it is better.”—Dean Inge, quoted in The Plan

In 1955 the saying was mentioned by Viscount Samuel in the House of Lords of the U.K. Parliament: 7

Dean Inge, who often said wise, shrewd and pithy things, once wrote: “There are two kinds of fools. One says ‘This is old; therefore, it is good’ The other says ‘This is new; therefore, it is better.'”

In 1975 John Brunner included an instance with a slightly different phrasing in his novel “The Shockwave Rider”, but he disclaimed credit: 8

DEAN INGE HE SAY

“There are two kinds of fool. One says, ‘This is old, and therefore good.’ And one says, ‘This is new, and therefore better.'”

In conclusion, QI believes William Ralph Inge crafted the statement in the 1931 collection. The chapter title “Some Wise Saws” suggested that the phrase may have already been circulating, but QI believes it was distinctive enough to credit Inge. Brunner employed the saying while crediting Inge.

Image Notes: The Fool card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck together with its mirror image. Reduced-size low-resolution image of the cover of the paperback novel “The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner. Portrait of William Ralph Inge from the U.S. Library of Congress. Images have been resized, retouched, and cropped.

(Great thanks to Daniel B. Swindle whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks also to my local library and the interlibrary loan system.)

Notes:

  1. 1931, More Lay Thoughts of a Dean by William Ralph Inge, Section: Here, There, and Everywhere, Chapter 9: Some Wise Saws, Quote Page 201, Putnam, London and New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1897 October 16, The Yorkshire Post, The Yorkshire College: The Bishop of Ripon on the Art of Reading, Quote Page 10, Column 4, West Yorkshire, England, (British Newspaper Archive)
  3. 1935 July 19, The Lethbridge Herald, Lights and Shadows by C. F. S., Quote Page 9, Column 3, Lethbridge, Alberta. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1935 August 15, The Current Local, Both in Foolish Class, Quote Page 7, Column 6, Van Buren, Missouri, (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1940 September 19, Western Mail & South Wales News, WALES Day By Day, Quote Page 4, Column 8, South Glamorgan, Wales. (British Newspaper Archive)
  6. 1945 December, The Reader’s Digest, Volume 47, (Filler Item), Quote Page 62, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper)
  7. 1955 March 9, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Lords Sitting, House of Lords Reform, Viscount Samuel, HL Deb, volume 191, cc825-902. (Accessed hansard.millbanksystems.com on February 2, 2017) link
  8. 1976 (Copyright 1975), The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner, Quote Page 70, A Del Rey Book: Ballantine Books, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)