Category Archives: Benjamin Disraeli

“He Is a Self-Made Man.” “Yes, And He Worships His Creator.”

Speaker: William Allen Butler? Henry Clapp? John Bright? Junius Henri Browne? Howard Crosby? Henry Armitt Brown? Benjamin Disraeli? William Cowper?

ancient08Topic: Horace Greeley? Benjamin Disraeli? George Law? David Davies?

Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I hear the claim that an individual who has excelled in life is a self-made man or a self-made woman I think of a well-known clever riposte:

Person A: He is a self-made man.
Person B: Yes, I have heard him say that many times, and he certainly worships his creator.

This quip is based on a comical form of self-reference. The definition of “self-made” implies that the man’s creator is the man himself. Hence, when he worships his creator he is worshiping himself. Do you know who originated this joke and who was being criticized?

Quote Investigator: A precursor that expressed the core of the joke appeared in a satirical poem composed in 1858 titled “Two Millions” by William Allen Butler. The work described a millionaire who obeyed the following “higher law” with “all his heart and soul and mind and strength”: 1

To love his maker, for he was SELF-MADE!
Self-made, self-trained, self-willed, self-satisfied,
He was himself, his daily boast and pride.

Thanks to Professor Ian Preston who located the above citation and shared it with QI. The entire poem was reprinted in the magazine “Titan” in London. 2 Also, sections of the work were reprinted by reviewers in periodicals such as “The Knickerbocker” in New York. 3 Thus, the jest was further disseminated.

A close match to the popular form of the joke appeared in March 1868 in multiple newspapers such as “The Stillwater Messenger” of Minnesota and the “Burlington Hawk Eye” of Iowa. In the following statement “The World” was a reference to a New York newspaper. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 4 5

The World says Horace Greeley is “a self-made man who worships his Creator.”

Also in March 1868 the “Springfield Republican” of Massachusetts and the “Utica Daily Observer” of New York identified the originator of the jibe as Henry Clapp who was the editor of a New York literary newspaper called “The Saturday Press”: 6 7

Henry Clapp says that Horace Greeley is a self made man, and worships his creator.

In July 1868 “Harper’s Magazine” published a version of the remark and suggested that Greeley would probably respond with good humor: 8

We take it that no man laughed more heartily than Mr. Greeley did when he was told what Henry Clapp had said about him. Said Clapp: “Horace Greeley is emphatically a self-made man, and he worships his Creator!”

In 1869 a non-fiction volume titled “The Great Metropolis: A Mirror of New York” by Junius Henri Browne was published, and the author applied the joke to a New Yorker named George Law: 9

He is frequently to be seen walking and driving about on his private business; occasionally appears at Fulton Market in quest of oysters, which he swallows voraciously as if he were more savage than hungry; and now and then figures as a vice-president of some public meeting, which he never attends. Such is Live-Oak George, who, as has been said, is a self-made man, and worships his creator.

By June 1870 a different version of the joke was circulating in England. The phrase “adores his maker” replaced the phrase “worships his creator”. A short item published in newspapers in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Leicester claimed that the politician John Bright had aimed the barb at the politician Benjamin Disraeli: 10 11

One of Mr. Disraeli’s admirers, in speaking about him to John Bright, said, “You ought to give him credit for what he has accomplished, as he is a self- made man.” “I know he is,” retorted Mr. Bright, “and he adores his maker.” -Court Journal.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1858, Two Millions by William Allen Butler, (Dedication: To The Phi Beta Kappa Society of Yale College, this poem, written at their request, and delivered before them, July 28, 1858, is dedicated), Quote Page 9, Published by D. Appleton & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1858 November, Titan: A Monthly Magazine, Volume 27, “Two Millions” by William Allen Butler, Start Page 605, Quote Page 606, Published by James Hogg & Sons, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1858 September, “The Knickerbocker, Or, New-York Monthly Magazine”, Volume 52, Literary Notices, (Review of William Allan Butler’s “Two Millions” with extensive excerpts), Start Page 291, Quote Page 291, Published by John A. Gray, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1868 March 11, The Stillwater Messenger, Clippings and Drippings: Personal and Literary, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Stillwater, Minnesota. (Old Fulton)
  5. 1868 March 11, Burlington Hawk Eye, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Burlington, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  6. 1868 March 12, Springfield Republican, Gleanings and Gossip, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Springfield, Massachusetts. (Genealogybank)
  7. 1868 March 16, Utica Daily Observer, Tea Table Gossip, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Utica, New York. (Old Fulton)
  8. 1868 July, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine [Harper’s Magazine], Editor’s Drawer, Start Page 281, Quote Page 283, Column 1, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  9. 1869 (Copyright 1868), The Great Metropolis: A Mirror of New York by Junius Henri Browne, Chapter LXXX: George Law, Start Page 642, Quote Page 644, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link
  10. 1870 June 3, Newcastle Courant, MULTUM IN PARVO, [Humor paragraph with acknowledgement to Court Journal], Quote Page 3, Column 4, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. (19th Century British Library Newspapers)
  11. 1870 June 18, Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury, Varieties, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Leicester, England. (This newspaper used the phrase “speaking of him” instead of “speaking about him”)(19th Century British Library Newspapers)

Half of the Town Councilors Are Not Fools

Swedish Councilor? Benjamin Disraeli? Australian Alderman? Casey Motsisi? Dennis Skinner? 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.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

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

There Is No Greater Mistake than To Try To Leap an Abyss in Two Jumps

David Lloyd George? Ambrose Bierce? Garry Davis? Arianna Huffington? Benjamin Disraeli? Anonymous?

aleap05Dear Quote Investigator: Arianna Huffington who is well-known for creating the website “The Huffington Post” once employed a vivid and astute saying about commitment and the need to take decisive actions:

You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.

She attributed the statement to David Lloyd George who was the British Prime Minister during World War I. Recently I saw a different version of the saying:

The most dangerous thing in the world is to leap a chasm in two jumps.

Would you examine this quotation to determine its proper form?

Quote Investigator: The Prime Minister did include an instance of this expression in volume two of the “War Memoirs of David Lloyd George” which was published in 1933. Lloyd George used the word “abyss” instead of “chasm” and his phrasing differed from the most common modern versions. The topic was passing difficult legislation in two separate steps. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Even under the accommodating Premiership of Mr. Asquith there were ominous growls and occasional outbursts of impatience from the straitest of his supporters. They resented conscription, which had consequently to be carried in two steps. There is no greater mistake than to try to leap an abyss in two jumps.

The figure of speech at the core of this saying had already been employed decades earlier, but Lloyd George was an important locus for its popularization, and in later years he often received credit.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1933, “War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, Volume II” by David Lloyd George, Chapter XXIV: Disintegration of the Liberal Party, Page 740, Ivor Nicholson & Watson, London. (First Edition October 1933; reprint in November 1933) (Verified on paper in November 1933 reprint)

If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain

Edmund Burke? Anselme Batbie? Victor Hugo? King Oscar II of Sweden? George Bernard Shaw? François Guizot? Georges Clemenceau? Benjamin Disraeli? Winston Churchill? Anonymous?

batbie04

Dear Quote Investigator: Some individuals change their political orientation as they grow older. There is a family of sayings that present a mordant judgment on this ideological evolution. Here are three examples:

Not to be a républicain at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.

If you’re not a socialist before you’re twenty-five, you have no heart; if you are a socialist after twenty-five, you have no head.

If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you aren’t a middle-aged conservative, you have no head.

Political terminology has changed over time, and it differs in distinct locales. Within the context of these sayings the terms “républicain”, “socialist”, and “liberal” were all on the left of the political spectrum. Would you please explore this complex topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an 1875 French book of contemporary biographical portraits by Jules Claretie. A section about a prominent jurist and academic named Anselme Polycarpe Batbie included the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

M. Batbie, dans une lettre trop célèbre, citait un jour, pour expliquer ses variations personnelles et bizarres, ce paradoxe de Burke: « Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit. »

Here is one possible translation to English.

Mr. Batbie, in a much-celebrated letter, once quoted the Burke paradox in order to account for his bizarre political shifts: “He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.”

Batbie was probably referring to the statesman Edmund Burke who was noted for his support of the American Revolution and later condemnation of the French Revolution. However, QI has not located the quotation under investigation in the writings of Burke. Anselme Batbie lived between 1828 and 1887.

The same quotation with an ascription to Batbie appeared in volume five of the “La Grande Encyclopédie” which was published circa 1888. The title in English of this 31 volume work was “The Great Encyclopedia”, and the statement was printed within the entry for Batbie. 2

This saying is often attributed to the French statesman and historian François Guizot who died in 1874. However, this ascription was based in an entry in “Benham’s Book of Quotations Proverbs and Household Words” which was published many years after the death of Guizot; hence the supporting data is not very strong. Details are given further below in the 1936 citation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1875, Portraits Contemporains by Jules Claretie, Volume: 1, Chapter Topic: M. Casimir Périer, Start Page 51, Quote Page 55, Published by Librairie Illustrée, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. La Grande Encyclopédie: Inventaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Lettres et Des Arts, (The Great Encyclopedia: A Systematic Inventory of Science, Letters, and the Arts), by Société de Savants et de Gens de Lettres, Tome Cinquième (Volume 5), From Bailliébe to Belgiojoso, (Date: the 31 Volumes were published between 1886 and 1902; volume 5 was published circa 1888), Entry: “Batbie, Anselme-Polycarpe”, Start Page 705, Quote Page 705, Column 2, Published by H. Lamirault, Paris. (The quotation was nearly identical: “persévère” in 1875 was expanded to “persévère encore” in 1888)(Google Books Full View) link

You Shall Either Die Upon the Gallows or of the Pox

Samuel Foote? 4th Earl of Sandwich? James Quin? John Wilkes? William Gladstone? Benjamin Disraeli?

footesandwich03Dear Quote Investigator: The sharpest and funniest retort I know of was said in response to a harsh insult:

You, sir, will certainly either die upon the gallows or of a social disease.

That depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.

Can you tell me who spoke these lines?

Quote Investigator: Many versions of this dialog have been presented in books and periodicals over a span of more than two hundred years. In addition, the participants in this verbal thrust and parry have varied in different renditions. Here are five pairs of antagonists that have been proposed:

(1) 4th Earl of Sandwich and Samuel Foote.
(2) A Nobleman and James Quin.
(3) 4th Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes.
(4) William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.
(5) 4th Earl of Sandwich and Charles James Fox.

The earliest evidence located by QI was published in a London periodical called “The European Magazine” in 1784. A bracing encounter between Lord Sandwich and Samuel Foote was described. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

Bon Mot of the late Sam. Foote—Sam. was invited to a convivial meeting at the house of the late Sir Francis Blake Delaval. Lord Sandwich was one of the guests upon the same occasion. When the Comedian entered, the Peer exclaimed, “what are you alive still?” “Yes, my Lord,” replied Foote. “Pray Sam,” retorted his Lordship, “which do you think will happen to you first, the experience of a certain disease, or an intimate acquaintance with the gallows?” “Why,” rejoined the Comedian, “that depends upon circumstances, and they are these, whether I prefer embracing your Lordship’s mistress, or, your principles.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1784 January, The European Magazine: and London Review, Bon Mot of the late Sam. Foote, Quote Page 16, Column 2, Philological Society of London, Printed for John Fielding, London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Wish I Was As Sure of Any One Thing As He is of Everything

Lord Melbourne? William Windham? Benjamin Disraeli? Sydney Smith? William Lamb? Thomas B. Macaulay?

melbourne03Dear Quote Investigator: Each of us has encountered an individual who with highhanded convictions presents an answer to every question. There is a famous witticism aimed at a person of this type:

I only wish that I was as cocksure of any one thing as he is sure of everything.

Do you know who crafted this expression?

Quote Investigator: There are many different versions of this statement which evolved over time. The earliest evidence indicates that William Lamb who was the Second Viscount Melbourne constructed this quip, and he aimed the barb at the prominent historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay. The first strong match located by QI was printed in 1851. Boldface has been added:

“I wish,” said he, “that I knew any thing as well as Tom Macaulay knows every thing.”

Details for this cite are given further below.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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What Is the Difference Between a Misfortune and a Calamity?

Benjamin Disraeli? Napoleon III? French Academician? Mr. Snigger? Suffragette? Apocryphal?

thames08Dear Quote Investigator: The statesman Benjamin Disraeli was famous for his witticisms and barbs. Reportedly he was once asked about the difference in meaning between the words “misfortune” and “calamity”, and he constructed a jest aimed at his political rival William Ewart Gladstone:

Well, if Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune; and if anybody pulled him out, that would be a calamity.

The reference works I examined gave citations in the twentieth century, but Disraeli died in 1881. Is this tale apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: There are many versions of this joke, and it has been circulating and evolving for more than 150 years. For example, the pair of contrasting words has included the following: accident versus malheur; accident versus misfortune; accident versus calamity; mischance versus misfortune; mishap versus misfortune; and misfortune versus calamity.

The hazardous event depicted has varied over time: falling into a pit, a pond, an unnamed river, the Seine, or the Thames. The identity of the endangered individual has also changed: the Emperor of the French, Plon-Plon, Mr. Bright, Sir Bilberry, Mr. Snippson, William Gladstone, or David Lloyd George.

This variability makes tracing the quip difficult. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in 1862, and the joke was expressed in French. The target of disdain was Napoleon III who at that time was the Emperor of the French. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A flash of wit to be recorded amongst the most successful is one for which credit has been given to a French Academician, one of the leaders of the Orleanist party, a quondam Minister of Louis Philippe. Being asked by a lady what was the exact difference between the word accident and the word malheur, he replied immediately:

“Supposons que l’Empereur tombe dans un puits, c’est un accident; supposons que vous l’en retiriez, c’est un malheur.”—“Suppose the Emperor falls into a pit, that’s an accident; suppose you help him out, that’s a misfortune.”

By 1865 a quite different version of the jest was in circulation. In this instance Napoleon III was not the butt of ridicule he was the humorist: 2

The little imperial prince once applied to his father to learn from him the difference between the words accident and malheur.

“My dear son,” the emperor answered, “if our cousin Napoleon, for instance, were to fall into the water, that would be an accident; but if he were fished out again, that would be a malheur.”

The earliest ascription located by QI of the quip to Benjamin Disraeli was printed in 1887, and this was a rather late date. Hence, the citation provided weak support for the Disraeli connection. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1862 November 15, The Spectator, Volume 35, Political Power of the French Salons, (From Our Special Correspondent, London, November 12, 1862) Start Page 1273, Quote Page 1273, London, England. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1865, Napoleon the Third and his Court by a Retired Diplomatist, Accident and Malheur, Quote Page 253, John Maxwell and Company, London. (Google Books full view) link

Thank You for the Gift Book. I Shall Lose No Time In Reading It

Benjamin Disraeli? William Gladstone? William Makepeace Thackeray? Moses Hadas? A celebrated botanist? A Scotchman? Thomas Bailey Aldrich? Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.? Samuel Wilberforce? Max O’Rell?

disraeliholmes04Dear Quote Investigator: Aspiring authors sent numerous manuscripts to the statesman and novelist Benjamin Disraeli. Reportedly, he would send back a wittily ambiguous response:

Many thanks; I shall lose no time in reading it.

This statement might mean that Disraeli would immediately start to read the volume, or it might mean that he would never read the book. A similar response has been credited to William Makepeace Thackeray. Also, I have seen the following variant phrasing:

Your book has arrived, and I shall waste no time reading it.

Could you determine who is responsible for this type of quip?

Quote Investigator: This amusing remark has been attributed to a large and varied collection of individuals over the past 140 years including: French comedian Max O’Rell, author William Makepeace Thackeray, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, statesman Benjamin Disraeli, and his opposition William Gladstone.

First, QI notes that the phrase can be used in a straight-forward manner without a comical overlay. For example, a letter dated September 11, 1784 from the poet William Cowper used the phrase with the assumption that the text would indeed be read quickly: 1

I know that you will lose no time in reading it, but I must beg you likewise to lose none in conveying it to Johnson, that if he chuses to print it, it may go to the press immediately…

The earliest instance located by QI of an individual wielding the phrase with a humorous intent appeared in an 1871 issue of the British Quarterly Review. The quipster was identified as a botanist, but no name was given: 2

A celebrated botanist used to return thanks somewhat in the following form:—’I have received your book, and shall lose no time in reading it.’ The unfortunate author might put his own construction on this rather ambiguous language.

In 1883 a travel book titled “There and Back; or, Three Weeks in America” printed the joke and referred to it as “the old equivoque”. The word “equivoque” meant a pun or a phrase with a double meaning: 3

…they may adopt the old equivoque—”We have received your book, and shall lose no time in reading it!”

Also, in 1883 the witticism was printed in the science periodical Nature. The context was an article critical of testimonial letters which clearly indicated that the saying was being used sarcastically. The phrase was called a “well-known formula”: 4

Many testimonials are framed after that well-known formula for acknowledging the receipt of pamphlets which runs as follows:—”Dear Sir,—I beg to thank you for the valuable pamphlet which you have so kindly sent me, and which I will lose no time in reading.” And I heard the other day a testimonial praised because it showed the electors whom not to elect.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1805, The Port – Folio (1801-1827), Volume 5, Issue 45, Original Letters from Cowper to the Rev. William Unwin, Page 354, (Letter to Rev. William Unwin dated September 11, 1784), Published by H. Maxwell, Philadelphia. (ProQuest American Periodicals)
  2. 1871 October 1, The British Quarterly Review, Article V, Letters and Letter Writing, Start Page 392, Quote Page 411, Hodder and Stoughton, London. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1883, “There and Back; or, Three Weeks in America” by J. Fox Turner [John Fox Turner], Section: Preface, Quote Page vii, Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., London. (Google Books full view; Thanks to Victor Steinbok for locating this citation) link
  4. 1883 August 9, Nature (Weekly), A Result of our Testimonial System, Start Page 341, Quote Page 342, Column 1, Macmillan and Co., London. (Google Books full view; HathiTrust) link

When I Want to Read a Book, I Write One

Benjamin Disraeli? Washington Irving?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I was reading the top-selling book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” and encountered this sentence [BSN]:

Nero did not read novels—”Novels are fun to write, not read,” he claimed.

I was certain that I had read something similar before. After thinking a few minutes I recalled the following quotation:

When I want to read a novel, I write one.

This does differ from the words in the Black Swan, but the association in my mind was strong. When I searched for this phrase online I found the saying attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, but I have not seen any solid citations. Could you investigate this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest version of this humorous and imperious statement that QI has located uses the word “book” instead of “novel” and is indeed attributed to Benjamin Disraeli in 1868 [BDFM]:

When I want to read a book, I write one.

Another entertaining and more modest viewpoint concerning reading and writing books is expressed by the prominent American author Washington Irving in 1824. At the beginning of “Tales of a Traveller” Irving writes a section “To the Reader” using his Geoffrey Crayon persona [WIGC]:

I tried to read, but my mind would not fix itself; I turned over volume after volume, but threw them by with distaste: “Well, then,” said I at length in despair, “if I cannot read a book, I will write one.” Never was there a more lucky idea; it at once gave me occupation and amusement.

Of course, this is a distinct motto; QI includes it as an engaging counterpoint. Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.

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