Category Archives: Horace Walpole

A Little Nonsense Now and Then is Relished by the Wisest Men

Roald Dahl? Willy Wonka? Gene Wilder? Horace? Lord Byron? Horace Walpole? Hudibras? Samuel Butler? Anonymous?

dahl08Dear Quote Investigator: The 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was an extraordinary confection. The candy-maker Wonka played by Gene Wilder used numerous literary quotations while leading a tour of his factory. One scene took place in a room with geese that produced enormous golden eggs of chocolate. Each egg was analyzed by an “eggdicator” to determine whether it was a good egg or a bad egg. One parent on the tour considered the situation ridiculous, and Wonka replied to his skepticism with a quotation: 1

Grandpa Joe: It’s an educated eggdicator.
Henry Salt: It’s a lot of nonsense.
Willy Wonka: A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Would you please trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: The popular English author Roald Dahl published the children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in 1964. Dahl also wrote the screenplay for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” based on his book. The line spoken by Wonka in the movie is not in the 1964 book, but Dahl included it in the 1972 sequel called “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the newspaper “The New-York Mirror” in 1823. The reviewer of a new melodrama called “Undine, or the Spirit of the Waters” did not consider it a serious work, but he enjoyed it and recommended it. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

As a drama, it is not of the family of legitimates; but what then, who has not experienced the truth of that good old couplet, that

“A little nonsense, now and then,
Is relished by the wisest men!”

The reviewer disclaimed credit for the expression by labelling it an “old couplet”; hence, earlier citations probably exist. Nevertheless, quotation expert Nigel Rees deserves kudos for placing this valuable instance in his compilation “The Best Guide to Humorous Quotations”. 3

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1971, Movie: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Screenplay by Roald Dahl, Based on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl, Released by Paramount Pictures, Quote Location: 1 hour 20 minutes of 1 hour 39 minutes. (Amazon Video)
  2. 1823 December 6, The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette, The Drama: Undine, Quote Page 151, Column 1, Published by George P. Morris, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 2011, The Best Guide to Humorous Quotations by Nigel Rees, (Updated, expanded, and revised version of “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations”, 2003), Publication Date: September 6, 2011, Topic: Nonsense, Kindle Location: 14964, Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC. (Kindle Ebook)

Chance, Coincidence, Miracles, Pseudonyms, and God

Albert Einstein? Théophile Gautier? Alexis de Valon? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Helena Blavatsky? Dr. Paul F.? Heidi Quade? Bonnie Farmer? Charlotte C. Taylor? Doris Lessing? Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole?

chance10Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is attributed to the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein:

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

I have been unable to find any solid information to support this ascription. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type. It is not listed in the comprehensive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

This topic is large, complex, and tangled. QI believes that the remark evolved from a family of interrelated sayings that can be traced back many years. These sayings did not have the same meaning, but QI believes that the earlier statements influenced the emergence of the later statements.

Below is a summary list with dates of the pertinent quotations. The shared theme was an examination of the connections between chance, coincidence, Providence, and God. The term “Providence” refers to the guardianship and care provided by God, a deity, or nature viewed as a spiritual force. Statements in French are accompanied with a translation.

1777: What is called chance is the instrument of Providence. (Horace Walpole)

1795: Quelqu’un disait que la Providence était le nom de baptême du Hasard, quelque dévot dira que le Hasard est un sobriquet de la Providence. (Nicolas Chamfort) [Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.]

1845: Le hasard, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer. (Théophile Gautier) [Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not want to sign.]

1897: Il faut, dans la vie, faire la part du hasard. Le hasard, en définitive, c’est Dieu. (Anatole France) [In life we must make all due allowance for chance. Chance, in the last resort, is God.]

1949: Chance is the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign. (misattribution: Anatole France)

1976: He defined coincidence as a miracle in which God chose to remain anonymous. (Dr. Paul F. of Indianapolis, Indiana)

1979: A coincidence is a small miracle where God chose to remain anonymous. (Anonymous in “Shop with Sue”)

1984: A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Heidi Quade)

1985: Coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Bonnie Farmer)

1986: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (Charlotte Clemensen Taylor)

1997: Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. (attribution: Doris Lessing)

2000: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (misattribution: Albert Einstein)

Details for these statements together with additional selected citations in chronological order are given below.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)

Chance Is the Nickname of Providence

Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole? Anonymous?

chnace08Dear Quote Investigator: The relationships between chance, luck, fate, and providence are often disputed. One viewpoint holds that no event occurs at random; instead, there is an underlying purpose or design though it may be hidden or opaque. Here is an adage encapsulating that thought:

Chance is the nickname of Providence.

Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: A precursor to the adage appeared in a 1777 letter written by Horace Walpole who was pioneer of gothic literature and a notable historian of art. The letter was addressed to the Countess of Ossory, and it was published by 1848. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . what is called chance is the instrument of Providence and the secret agent that counteracts what men call wisdom, and preserves order and regularity, and continuation in the whole . . .

The earliest evidence of a strong match known to QI was from the pen of the famous French epigrammatist Nicolas Chamfort who died in 1794. A collection of his works was published in 1795 that included a set of “Maximes et Pensées” (Maxims and Thoughts) containing the following two-part statement: 2

Quelqu’un disait que la Providence était le nom de baptême du Hasard, quelque dévot dira que le Hasard est un sobriquet de la Providence.

Here was one possible translation into English:

Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.

Chamfort’s complex remark intertwined and counterposed teleology, theology, probability, and contingency.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1848, Letters Addressed to the Countess of Ossory from the Year 1769 to 1797 by Horace Walpole (Lord Orford), Edited with Notes by R. Vernon Smith, Volume 1, Letter number 101, Letter from Horace Walpole, Letter to Countess of Ossory, Date: January 19, 1777, Start Page 262, Quote Page 262, Published by Richard Bentley, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Date: L’an 3 de la République (Third year of the Republic overlapped 1794 and 1795), Title: Oeuvres de Chamfort (Works of Nicolas Chamfort), Publisher: Recueillies et publiées par un de ses Amis (Collected and published by one of his friends), Volume: Tome IV (Volume 4), Section: Maximes et Pensées: Maximes générales, Quote Page 34, Publishing location: A PARIS Chez le Directeur de l’Imprimerie des Sciences et Arts, rue Thérèse (Published in Paris). (Google Books Full View) link

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer in San Francisco

Locale: San Francisco, California? Paris, France? Duluth, Minnesota? Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

Originator: Mark Twain? Horace Walpole? James Quin? R. Q. Grant? Lord Byron? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Living in Menlo Park near San Francisco I have heard the following witticism credited to Mark Twain many times:

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.

I actually enjoy the weather here, so this saying always seemed implausible to me. Also, the San Francisco Chronicle once printed an article that cast doubt on the Twain attribution. Can you figure out who created this joke? Also, was the remark originally about SF or some other locale?

Quote Investigator: There is no evidence in the papers and speeches of Mark Twain that he ever made this remark about San Francisco. There is a letter discussed below from Twain in which he commented on a similar type of jest, but he expressed unhappiness with the weather of Paris and not San Francisco.

Top-flight researcher Stephen Goranson located the earliest known evidence of this joke-type in a letter written by Horace Walpole, a prominent literary figure and politician in England. Walpole attributed the remark to James Quin, a leading actor in London in the 1700s. This jest is distinct but it is closely related to the quip given by the questioner. The location of the cold weather was not specified. The letter was written during the summer of 1789 in July [HWJQ]:

Quin, being once asked if he had ever seen so bad a winter, replied, “Yes, just such an one last summer!”—and here is its youngest brother!

This comical observation and its ascription reached the attention of Mark Twain who mentioned it in a letter in 1880 while criticizing Parisian climate. The text of the letter is viewable at the authoritative Mark Twain Project Online [MTJQ]:

… for anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the Damnable. More than a hundred years ago somebody asked Quin, “Did you ever see such a winter in all your life before?” “Yes,” said he, “Last summer.” I judge he spent his summer in Paris.

Several fine researchers have noted the existence of this letter linking Twain to the quip about cold weather including Ralph Keyes [NGRK] [QVRK], Fred Shapiro [YQMT], and Barbara Schmidt [TQSF].

The modern phrasing of the saying was used by the beginning of the 1900s, but the initial target of the barb was not San Francisco. Instead, the joke was directed at a genuinely frosty locale: Duluth, Minnesota. The Duluth News-Tribune in 1900 recounted a version of the saying while using a belligerently defensive tone [DNDM]:

One of these days somebody will tell that mouldy chestnut about the finest winter he ever saw being the summer he spent in Duluth, and one of these husky commercial travelers, who have been here and know all about our climate, will smite him with an uppercut and break his slanderous jaw. The truth will come out in time.

The above instance in 1900 used the word “finest” instead of “coldest”. In June 1901 in a Kentucky newspaper an employee of the weather bureau deployed a version of the saying that closely matched a modern template. Once again the weather in Duluth was the subject [KYDM]:

In a recent conversation with Mr. R. Q. Grant, of the State College Weather Bureau, a Herald reporter learned that the life of the employes of the United States Weather Bureau service is one filled with interesting experiences. …

Later Mr. Grant was sent to Pike’s Peak, where he established the station now there. Another assignment was to Duluth, Minn., where he learned to appreciate rapid changes in temperature. He says the coldest winter he ever experienced was the summer he spent in Duluth.

Over a span of more than one hundred years many locations were substituted into this jest including: Milwaukee, Two Harbors, Grand Marais, Puget Sound, Buffalo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

Note that Mark Twain lived until 1910, so the expression was being used while he was still alive. Yet, the words were not attributed to him in any of the early instances. The first citation found by QI in which Twain’s name was invoked was dated 1928 and the subject was Duluth. The details are recorded further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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