Category Archives: Benjamin Franklin

The Pleasure Is Momentary, the Position Is Ridiculous, the Expense Is Damnable

Lord Chesterfield? Hilaire Belloc? D. H. Lawrence? George Bernard Shaw? Alexander Duffield? Somerset Maugham? Elliot Paul? Samuel Hopkins Adams? Benjamin Franklin? P. D. James? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Lord Chesterfield reportedly crafted an outrageously humorous description of intimate relations. I’ve seen different versions that each comment on pleasure, position, and expense. Yet, I have never seen a proper citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, is typically referred to as Lord Chesterfield. Researchers have been unable to find the statement about eros in his writings, and the words were ascribed to him many years after his death in 1773.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a letter sent to the editors of “The Western Daily Press” in Bristol, England in 1902. The subject was the standardization of equipment for golf, and the word “amusement” was employed to avoid terms such as “intercourse” or “sex”. “Attitude” is a synonym for “posture”. In addition, the taboos of the era dictated the replacement of “damnable” by dashes. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If there is to be no limit to the fancy or ingenuity of club and ball makers, I am afraid the dictum of a certain American, speaking of another amusement, will be applicable to golf, viz., “that the pleasure is momentary, the attitudes ridiculous, and the expense —–“

So, the expression was circulating by 1902, but the printed evidence is limited. Interestingly, it was credited to an American instead of an Englishman.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1902 November 20, The Western Daily Press, Correspondence To The Editors of The Western Daily Press, (Letter Title: Standardisation of the Golf Ball, Letter From: W.L.B. of Clifton; Letter Date: November 17, 1902), Quote Page 3, Column 7, Bristol, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Beer/Wine Is Proof that God Loves Us and Wants Us To Be Happy

Benjamin Franklin? Apocryphal?

vineyard08Dear Quote Investigator: The renowned statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin has been credited with two variant statements about alcohol:

1) Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
2) Wine is constant proof that God loves us and likes to see us happy.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin sent a letter written in French to his friend Monsieur L’Abbé Morellet (André Morellet) that discussed wine and God. In 1818 William Temple Franklin who was the grandson of Benjamin published a posthumous collection of the statesman’s letters based on the originals. The volume included the French text together with an English translation for the missive, but it did not specify the date. The “marriage in Cana” in the following referred to an event described in the Gospel of John. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

On parle de la conversion de l’eau en vin, à la nôce de Cana comme d’un miracle. Mais cette conversion est faite tous les jours par la bonté de Dieu, sous nos yeux. Voilà l’eau qui tombe des cieux sur nos vignobles, et alors elle entre dans les racines des vignes pour-être changée en vin. Preuve constante que Dieu nous aime, et qu’il aime à nous voir heureux.

We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!

The comment on wine was remembered and reprinted repeatedly. The phrasing evolved and was streamlined over the period of nearly two centuries since the above publication.

The variant mentioning beer appeared relatively recently circa 1996, and it was constructed by simply replacing “wine” with “beer”; hence, it was not supported by Franklin’s primordial remark.

Thanks to a forum participant at Snopes and to a volunteer editor at Wikiquote who mentioned the letter above. Also, thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who explored this topic.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1818, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Published by His Grandson, William Temple Franklin, (From the Originals), Letter from Benjamin Franklin to the Monsieur L’Abbé Morellet (no date given in text), (French with translation into English), Start Page 347, Quote Page 348 and 349, Printed for Henry Colburn, Conduit Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1819, The Posthumous and Other Writings of Benjamin Franklin: Published from the Originals by His Grandson, William Temple Franklin, Volume 1 of 2, Third Edition, Letter from Benjamin Franklin to the Monsieur L’Abbe Morellet (no date given in text), (French with translation into English), Start Page 286, Quote Page 287 and 290, Printed for Henry Colburn, Conduit Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Either Write Things Worth Reading or Do Things Worth the Writing

Benjamin Franklin? Thomas Fuller? Apocryphal?

franklin15Dear Quote Investigator: If you wish to be remembered by posterity in a literate culture you have two options:

1) Write something that people wish to read.
2) Do something grand that inspires people to write.

The famous statesman Benjamin Franklin has a secure place in history for both of these reasons. Apparently, he crafted a remark that was similar to the one above although he was more eloquent. Would you please locate this adage?

Quote Investigator: Franklin published a series of almanacs in the 1700s that were very popular, and many of the statements that are credited to him today were printed in these almanacs. The pertinent adage appeared in the 1738 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” whose more complete title was “Poor Richard, An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1738, Being the Second after LEAP YEAR.”

The phrases of the expression were interleaved with astronomical facts concerning the month of May 1738. QI has underlined the adage in red in the image below which shows part of Franklin’s book: 1

If you wou’d not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
or do things worth the writing.

franklinworth02

Many of the sayings in the almanacs were not coined by Franklin. He read several contemporary compilations and sometimes selected statements he found interesting. He also rewrote existing adages and even combined sayings.

The core of the adage under investigation appeared earlier in a collection titled “Introductio ad Prudentiam: Or, Directions, Counsels, and Cautions, Tending to Prudent Management of Affairs in Common Life” by Thomas Fuller which was published in 1727. Adage number 686 was the following: 2

If thou wouldest win Immortality of Name, either do things worth the writing, or write things worth the reading.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1738, Poor Richard, An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1738, Being the Second after Leap Year (Poor Richard’s Almanac), Benjamin Franklin, Month: May, Column: 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Images from Historical Society of Pennsylvania; accessed at rarebookroom.org on April 27, 2016) link
  2. 1731, Introductio ad Prudentiam: Or, Directions, Counsels, and Cautions, Tending to Prudent Management of Affairs in Common Life, Compiled by Thomas Fuller, M.D., Third Edition, Quote Page 40, Saying Number 686, Printed for W. Innys at the West-End of St Paul’s, London. (First edition was published in 1727; the quotation was verified with scans of the 1731 third edition)(HathiTrust) link link

Those Who Love Deeply Never Grow Old

Benjamin Franklin? Dorothy Canfield Fisher? Arthur Wing Pinero? Abigail Van Buren? Anonymous?

love10Dear Quote Investigator: I recently saw an illustration of two people embracing above the following caption:

Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.

At least three different people have been credited with this saying: Dorothy C. Fisher, Benjamin Franklin, and Arthur W. Pinero. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1897 the five act comedy “The Princess and The Butterfly; or, The Fantastics” by Arthur Wing Pinero was staged in London and in New York. The two primary characters were named Princess Pannonia and George Lamorant and were referred to as The Princess and The Butterfly, respectively.

Lamorant proposed marriage to Pannonia, but he also expressed uncertainty about the match to another character named Fay Zuliani who delivered the following advice. Dialectical spelling was employed to depict an Italian accent; “those” was written as “dose”, and “they” was written as “dey”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

FAY: [Slowly coming to the table.] Dose who love deep never grow old, I have ‘eard it said. Dey may die of age, but dey die young. You ought to love de Princess.

Note that the original line used “die of age” and not “die of old age”. Also, the word “deep” was spoken instead of “deeply”.

During a later scene in the play the initial statement was emphasized by being spoken again by both Lamorant and Pannonia though the phrasing was slightly different: 2

SIR GEORGE: That those who love deeply cannot age—
PRINCESS: That those–who love deeply–cannot age?
SIR GEORGE: Yes
PRINCESS: If it were so!
SIR GEORGE: Nor perceive age in those they love.
PRINCESS: What a blessed creed!
SIR GEORGE: Yes.

QI believes that playwright Pinero should be credited with the remark under investigation. The linkages of the quotation to Benjamin Franklin and Dorothy Canfield Fisher were not supported with substantive citations.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1898, The Princess and The Butterfly or, The Fantastics: A Comedy in Five Acts by Arthur W. Pinero (Arthur Wing Pinero), The Fifth Act, Start Page 208, Quote Page 218, Published by William Heinemann, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1898, The Princess and The Butterfly or, The Fantastics: A Comedy in Five Acts by Arthur W. Pinero (Arthur Wing Pinero), The Fifth Act, Start Page 208, Quote Page 234, Published by William Heinemann, London. (Google Books Full View) link

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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If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter

Blaise Pascal? John Locke? Benjamin Franklin? Henry David Thoreau? Cicero? Woodrow Wilson?

Dear Quote Investigator: I was planning to end a letter with the following remark:

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

But the number of different people credited with this comment is so numerous that an explanatory appendix would have been required, and the letter was already too long. Here is a partial list of attributions I have seen: Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Voltaire, Blaise Pascal, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Winston Churchill, Pliny the Younger, Cato, Cicero, Bill Clinton, and Benjamin Franklin. Did anybody in this group really say it?

Quote Investigator: Some of the attributions you have listed are spurious, but several are supported by solid evidence. The first known instance in the English language was a sentence translated from a text written by the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. The French statement appeared in a letter in a collection called “Lettres Provinciales” in the year 1657: 1 2 3

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

Here is one possible modern day translation of Pascal’s statement. Note that the term “this” refers to the letter itself.

I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.

An English translation was created in 1658 and published in London. Here is an excerpt from that early rendition of the letter: 4

My Letters were not wont to come so close one in the neck of another, nor yet to be so large. The short time I have had hath been the cause of both. I had not made this longer than the rest, but that I had not the leisure to make it shorter then it is.

Pascal’s notion was quite memorable, and it was discussed in a French book about language. That work was translated and published in London in 1676 as “The Art of Speaking”: 5

These Inventions require much wit, and application; and therefore it was, that Mons. Pascal (an Author very famous for his felicity in comprising much in few words) excused himself wittily for the extravagant length of one of his Letters, by saying, he had not time to make it shorter.

In 1688 a religious controversialist named George Tullie included a version of the witticism in an essay he wrote about the celibacy of the clergy: 6

The Reader will I doubt too soon discover that so large an interval of time was not spent in writing this discourse; the very length of it will convince him, that the writer had not time enough to make a shorter.

Below are listed several variations of the expression as used by well known, lesser known, and unknown individuals. The philosopher John Locke, the statesman Benjamin Franklin, the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and the President Woodrow Wilson all presented statements matching this theme and the details are provided.

Mark Twain who is often connected to this saying did not use it according to the best available research, but one of his tangentially related quotations is given later for your entertainment.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Blaise Pascal, Page 583, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 119-120, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations edited by Elizabeth Knowles, Section: Blaise Pascal, Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press. (Accessed March 27, 2012)
  4. 1658, Les Provinciales, or, The Mystery of Jesuitisme by Blaise Pascal, [Translated into English], Second Edition Corrected, Page 292, Letter 16: Postscript, [Letter addressed to Reverend Fathers from Blaise Pascal], Printed for Richard Royston, London. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1676, The Art of Speaking, Written in French by Messieurs Du Port Royal: In Pursuance of a former Treatise, Intitled, The Art of Thinking, Rendred into English, Page 8, Printed by W. Godbid, London. (Google Books full view) link
  6. 1688, An Answer to a Discourse Concerning the Celibacy of the Clergy by George Tullie, Preface, [Page 2 of Preface; unnumbered], Oxford, Printed at the Theater for Richard Chiswell, London. (Google Books full view) link

Be at War with Your Vices, at Peace with Your Neighbours, and Let Every New Year Find You a Better Man

Benjamin Franklin? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: This is the season for New Year’s resolutions and toasts, and I have found a quotation credited to Benjamin Franklin that fits this theme:

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man (or woman).

However, there are so many fake quotes attributed to Franklin that I have no idea if this one is authentic. Could you tell me if this one is real? Also, if these are Franklin’s words where did they appear?

Quote Investigator: Franklin published a series of almanacs in the 1700s that were very popular, and many of the proverbs that are credited to him today were printed in these almanacs.  This sentence did appear in the 1755 edition of “Poor Richard’s  Almanac” whose more complete title is: “Poor Richard improved: Being an Almanack and Ephemeris of the Motions of the Sun and Moon; the True Places and Aspects of the Planets; the Rising and Setting of the Sun, And The Rising Setting and Southing of the Moon.”

The words of the expression were interleaved with astronomical facts concerning December 1755, and the salient terms in the phrase were capitalized. The word neighbors was spelled with a “u”, and New Year was hyphenated [PRBF]:

Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.

Many of the sayings that Franklin presented in his almanacs were obtained from other sources, and QI does not know if this advice originated with Franklin.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order together with a digital image showing how the saying was  printed within the almanac. Continue reading

Time is Money. Benjamin Franklin?

Dear Quote Investigator: As an entrepreneur I marvel at the wisdom and concision of the following maxim:

Time is money.

This is usually credited to Benjamin Franklin, but I have become skeptical about attributions after reading this blog. So, I performed my own  exploration for this saying and determined that it was indeed Franklin who said it. He reinforced the meaning of the maxim with a common sense example that states: if you skip half-a-days work then you throw away half-a-days wage [AYT]:

Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, it ought not to be reckoned the only expence; he hath really spent or thrown away five shillings besides.

He said it in 1748 in an essay titled Advice to a Young Tradesman. Is this an example of a saying that is properly acknowledged?

Quote Investigator: Great work! You have given excellent evidence that Franklin employed the maxim in 1748. The remaining question is: Did someone say it before Franklin?

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