Category Archives: Max Beerbohm

People Who Like This Sort of Thing Will Find This the Sort of Thing They Like

Abraham Lincoln? Artemus Ward? George Bernard Shaw? Max Beerbohm? Muriel Spark?

ward08Dear Quote Investigator: A popular anecdote asserts that Abraham Lincoln was obliged to listen to a prolix lecture about spiritualism by an enthusiastic friend. After the discourse was complete, Lincoln’s opinion was sought, and he replied with a humorously redundant non-committal statement designed to be inoffensive. Here are three versions:

1) People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.
2) For people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like
3) For those who like that sort of thing I should think it just the sort of thing they would like.

Other prominent figures have been credited with this line such as the wit Max Beerbohm and novelist Muriel Spark. I am suspicious of the attribution to Lincoln. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI hypothesizes that the seed of this family of expressions was sown by the popular humorist Charles Farrar Browne who was known to audiences by his pseudonym Artemus Ward. In 1863 he created advertising material for a set of lectures he was performing. He included parodic testimonials from fictional people, and one ersatz supporter was named “O. Abe”. The name “Artemus” was misspelled as “Artemas” in the following passage from a Maine newspaper in October 1863. Boldface was been added: 1

Artemas Ward among other puffs of his lectures has the following from “Old Abe:”,

Dear Sir–I have never heard any of your lectures, but from what I can learn I should say that for people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like.
Yours, respectably, O. Abe.

The letter penned by Ward was printed in multiple newspapers. The words became linked to Abraham Lincoln because of the suggestive name “Abe”. Over time the phrasing evolved, and a variety of anecdotes were constructed to accompany the expression.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1863 October 23, Daily Eastern Argus, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Portland, Maine. (GenealogyBank)

History Does Not Repeat Itself. The Historians Repeat One Another

Max Beerbohm? Rupert Brooke? Philip Guedalla? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?

beerbohm01Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard two distinct, humorous, and antithetical sayings about the composition of history:

1) History repeats itself, and the historians repeat each other
2) History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat each other.

Statements of this type have been attributed to two famously witty individuals: Oscar Wilde and Max Beerbohm. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in an article from 1868 in the Louisville Journal which was reprinted by newspapers in Atlanta, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. The phrasing was somewhat different, but the meaning matched the first expression listed above. The unnamed author was greatly impressed by the number and diversity of books that had already been published and wondered what type of book might appear in the future. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

For taking into account the vast library of standard history, philosophy, fiction, poetry, which the genius of every language, ancient and modern, has furnished us, what else remains to be written? History will, of course, go on repeating itself, and the historians repeating each other.

In 1896 the illustrator and humorist Max Beerbohm wrote an essay titled “1880”. Some confusion is inevitable when a year is used as a title, so please note that the essay was written 16 years after 1880. Beerbohm employed the second expression listed above, but he did not claim coinage. The phrase “it has been said” indicated that the saying was already in circulation: 3

“History,” it has been said, “does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another.” Now, there are still some periods with which no historian has grappled, and, strangely enough, the period that most greatly fascinates me is one of them.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1868 June 30, The Constitution (Atlanta Constitution), A Live Newspaper (From the Louisville Journal), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Atlanta, Georgia. (Digital newspaper image shows degraded text. Hence the text was determined by simultaneously examining the article copies in the Atlanta Constitution and The Charleston Daily News) (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1868 June 30, The Charleston Daily News, A Live Newspaper (From the Louisville Journal), Quote Page 1, Column 2 and 3, Charleston, South Carolina. (Chronicling America)
  3. 1896, The Works of Max Beerbohm by Sir Max Beerbohm, Essay: 1800, (Date and location given for the composition at the end of the essay: London, 1894), Start Page 41, Quote Page 41, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link