Category Archives: Jack Benny

The Covers of This Book Are Too Far Apart

Ambrose Bierce? Alan Le May? Jack Benny? Mark Twain? Anonymous?

ambrose03Dear Quote Investigator: The increasing popularity of ebooks is threatening to make one of my favorite quotations obsolete. The wonderful humorist Ambrose Bierce was asked to evaluate a lengthy soporific tome and according to legend he handed in a devastating and hilarious one-line review:

The covers of this book are too far apart.

Did Bierce really write this, and what was the name of the book being evaluated?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI of a version of this quip was printed in 1899. The first citation connecting the joke to Ambrose Bierce was published more than two decades later in 1923. Details for this cite are presented further below. Bierce disappeared in 1913 and his final fate is still mysterious. The linkage of the saying to Bierce is weak because the 1923 claim appeared so late.

In September 1899 the “Logansport Pharos” of Indiana printed a short humor item in which two stock figures named “Author” and “Friend” exchanged remarks. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

An Honest Criticism.

Author—Now I want your honest opinion. Tell me what faults you see in my book.
Friend—Well, for one thing, I think the covers are too far apart.—New York Journal.

The paper listed an acknowledgement to a New York periodical, but it did not provide an attribution. The same comical dialog was published in other newspapers in 1899 such as the “North Adams Transcript” of Massachusetts, 2 the “Ann Arbor Daily Argus” of Michigan, 3 the “Biloxi Daily Herald” of Mississippi, 4 and the “Duluth Evening Herald” of Minnesota which acknowledged the “San Francisco Examiner” of California. 5

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1899 September 28, Logansport Pharos (Logansport Pharos Tribune), An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Logansport, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1899 September 29, North Adams Transcript, An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 6, Column 5, North Adams, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1899 October 11, Ann Arbor Daily Argus, An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1899 November 14, Biloxi Daily Herald (Daily Herald), An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Biloxi, Mississippi. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1899 November 9, Duluth Evening Herald, Autumn Zephyrs, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Duluth, Minnesota. (Old Fulton)

Age Is an Issue of Mind Over Matter. If You Don’t Mind, It Doesn’t Matter

Mark Twain? Jack Benny? Satchel Paige? Muhammad Ali? Unknown gerontology researcher?

bennysatchel075Dear Quote Investigator: On a popular website recently I saw a slide show of quotations ascribed to Mark Twain that included the following:

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

I thought this was said by the celebrated baseball pitcher Satchel Paige. Can you determine who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain created this witticism. For example, it is not found on TwainQuotes.com, the important website of Mark Twain quotations and resources 1 nor in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips”. 2

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an article about aging that was published in multiple newspapers in 1968. The saying was attributed to an anonymous scientific researcher. The prefatory phrase was somewhat shorter: 3

As one government researcher puts it: “Aging is a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

The quote above was printed in a North Carolina newspaper in June. The same article and saying were printed in a paper in Schenectady, New York in July. 4

The saying was memorable enough that the excerpt above was extracted from the article and printed by itself as a freestanding filler item in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana newspaper in July. 5

The adage continued to circulate and in 1970 it was ascribed to an anonymous physician in an article from the UPI news service: 6

“Aging is a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” With these words, one physician summed up one of the factors that means better health in the later years — the attitude that one has toward growing older, chronologically.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt. (Search performed December 17, 2012) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Search performed on scanned pages)
  3. 1968 June 28, Statesville Record and Landmark, Facts Listed On Aging, Quote Page 7-A, Statesville, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1968 July 11, Schenectady Gazette, Researchers Say Heredity Affects Aging, Quote Page 38, Column 3, Schenectady, New York. (Google News Archive)
  5. 1968 July 18, State Times (State Times Advocate), (Freestanding quote), Page 7-C, Column 3, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1970 May 20, The Milwaukee Journal, Aging Called A Matter Of Mind Over Calendar, (UPI News), Part 2, Page 7, Column 3, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)