Category Archives: Somerset Maugham

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)

I Only Write When Inspiration Strikes. Fortunately It Strikes at Nine Every Morning

William Faulkner? Peter De Vries? Herman Wouk? Somerset Maugham? Jane Yolen? Raymond Chandler? Anonymous?

NineAM10Dear Quote Investigator: As a writer I find the following quotation about motivation both amusing and invigorating:

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

I have seen these words attributed to the satiric New Yorker writer Peter De Vries, the Nobelist William Faulkner, and playwright-novelist Somerset Maugham. Who do you think originated this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1966 in a “Washington Post” profile of the bestselling author Herman Wouk who was best known for the novels “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Winds of War”, and “War and Remembrance”. Wouk ascribed the remark to William Faulkner. The phrasing differed from the version provided by the questioner, but the underlying joke was the same. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

For a writer with so many books to his credit, he finds writing an exceedingly difficult process of “gritting one’s teeth and putting down one word after another.” He averages 1500 to 2000 words a day and likes to quote William Faulkner: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”

This Wouk profile was reprinted in several newspapers including the “Des Moines Register” in Iowa 2 and the “Springfield Union” in Massachusetts. 3 Faulkner died in 1962, four years before the story was published, and QI has not yet located any direct support for the attribution.

In 1971 the poet and novelist Reynolds Price was interviewed in “The Raleigh News and Observer” of North Carolina, and he presented a version of the jest credited to William Faulkner: 4

Someone once asked Mr. Faulkner if he wrote by inspiration or habit and he said he wrote by inspiration, but luckily inspiration arrived at 9 every morning. I know what that means. And there is a kind of magic about keeping the stride once you’ve got it going.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1966 November 13, Washington Post, Writing Is Workaday For Herman Wouk: Inspiration Strikes at Nine Every Morning by Meryle Secrest (Washington Post Staff Writer), Quote Page F3, Column 3, Washington, D.C. (Note: ProQuest database gives the incorrect author name of Meryle Secret)
  2. 1966 November 24, Des Moines Register, The Wouk Formula For Writing Success by Meryle Secrest (Acknowledgement to The Washington Post), Quote Page 16, Des Moines, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1966 December 11, 1966, Springfield Union, Herman Wouk Tells What Literary Success Means by Meryle Secret, (Acknowledgement Washington Post News Service), Quote Page 18C, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1991, Conversations with Reynolds Price, Edited by Jefferson Humphries, (A Glimpse into the Very Private World of a Novelist, Interview of Reynolds Price by Rod Cockshutt, Reprinted from The Raleigh News and Observer, Date: January 24, 1971, Section: 4, 3) Start Page 30, Quote Page 34 and 35, Univ. Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, (Verified on paper)

Quotation Is a Serviceable Substitute for Wit

Oscar Wilde? Somerset Maugham? George Bernard Shaw? Voltaire? Apocryphal?

maugham02Dear Quote Investigator: I thought you might enjoy the following remark attributed to Oscar Wilde:

Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.

I saw this on the goodreads website, but the source of the saying was not listed. Further searching led to the following similar comment attributed to Somerset Maugham:

The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.

This situation is confusing. Is either of these quotations genuine?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde said or wrote either of these statements.

A version of the expression was included in the story “The Creative Impulse” by W. Somerset Maugham. This popular tale was reprinted several times and was even made into a television episode. Interestingly, the quote was not included in the first publication of the short story in Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 1926. 1

The story was revised, expanded, and published again in a 1931 collection called “Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular”. The expression was used when a character named Mrs. Albert Forrester was described. Boldface has been added: 2

She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit, and having for thirty years known more or less intimately a great many distinguished people, she had a great many interesting anecdotes to tell, which she placed with tact and which she did not repeat more than was pardonable.

Note that the phrasing of the sentence above was awkward if one desired a concise and witty stand-alone quotation. Over time multiple versions of the saying were advanced.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1926 August, Harper’s Bazar (Harper’s Bazaar), The Creative Impulse by W. Somerset Maugham, Start Page 41, Hearst Corp., New York. (In 1926 the magazine used the name “Harper’s Bazar”. Later it switched to the name “Harper’s Bazaar”) (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1977 (Reprint of 1931 Doubleday, Doran & Company, Garden City, New York edition), Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular by W. Somerset Maugham, (This volume is part of a series: The Works of W. Somerset Maugham), Short story: The Creative Impulse, Start Page 249, Quote Page 255, Arno Press: A New York Times Company, New York. (Quote verified in 1977 reprint)

There Are Three Rules for the Writing of a Novel

Somerset Maugham? Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain? Bret Harte? Anonymous?

maughamrules03Dear Quote Investigator: With the rapid growth of ebooks it seems that everyone is writing a book. Here is the funniest advice I have heard on this topic:

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Several prominent authors have offered writing advice in the form of three rules. Could you explore the background of these sayings?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI of this comical piece of non-advice was published in a 1977 volume providing guidance to neophyte authors titled “Maybe You Should Write a Book” by Ralph Daigh. This volume was not designed to teach the reader how to write, and Daigh illustrated that point with the following anecdote: 1

Somerset Maugham is credited with summing it all up when in addressing a friend’s class on English literature he was asked by a student how to write a novel.

Maugham’s answer was:
“There are three rules for the writing of a novel.
“Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”

Popular author, Maugham, died in 1965, so the documentation for this attribution is not ideal. Perhaps future discoveries will provide further substantiation.

Further below, this article will discuss writing advice that has been attributed to the prominent authors Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde. In each case the guidance utilized a three-fold structure. The article will also present several variants of the quotation credited to Maugham in domains such as: politics, moviemaking, and aviation. Immediately below, an antecedent of the jest in the realm of card games is discussed.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1977, Maybe You Should Write a Book by Ralph Daigh, Quote Page 7, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)

It Is Not Enough to Succeed; One’s Best Friend Must Fail

Gore Vidal? La Rochefoucauld? Somerset Maugham? Wilfrid Sheed? Iris Murdoch? David Merrick? Genghis Khan? Larry Ellison? Anonymous?

vidalsomerset04Dear Quote Investigator: Competition and jealousy are reflected in a family of closely related cynical sayings:

  • It is not enough to succeed; one’s best friend must fail.
  • It is not enough to succeed; one’s friends must fail.
  • It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.
  • It’s not enough that I should succeed, others should fail.
  • It is not sufficient that I succeed – all others must fail.

I have heard different versions of these quotations credited to the epigrammatist La Rochefoucauld, the writer Gore Vidal, and the warlord Genghis Khan. Could you examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: François Duc de la Rochefoucauld was born in 1613, and he did craft adages that are sometimes confused with the phrases you have given. Here are English translations of two of his statements that were originally made in French [YQRO] [OXRO]:

In the misfortune of our best friends, we always find something which is not displeasing to us.

We are all strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others.

These are really different maxims, and QI believes that the sayings under investigation should not be ascribed to La Rochefoucauld. A separate post will be created to discuss Rochefoucauld’s words.

The earliest instance known to QI of a quotation that fits in this family of sayings was published in 1959. The words were attributed to the best-selling author Somerset Maugham by the avid quotation collector Bennett Cerf. The quote was published in Cerf’s syndicated newspaper column called “Try and Stop Me”, and he credited Maugham second-hand through an unnamed “visitor”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI [SMFF]:

Octogenarian Somerset Maugham told a visitor to his French Riviera estate recently, “Now that I’ve grown old, I realize that for most of us it is not enough to have achieved personal success. One’s best friend must also have failed.”

In 1961 “Somerset Maugham: A Biographical and Critical Study” by Richard A. Cordell was published, and it included a discussion of the quotation immediately above. The biographer contended that Maugham’s comment was inspired by his exposure to the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld in his youth. The excerpt below referred to Maugham’s sojourn in Heidelberg, Germany that began when he was eighteen. The excerpt also referred his 85th birthday which occurred in 1959 [SMRC]:

His companions introduced him to the pleasures of art, poetry, theatre, and friendly disputation. He discovered the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, and their echoes were heard for sixty years in his plays and stories. On Maugham’s eighty-fifth birthday a journalist reported him as uttering a pure La Rochefoucauld: “Now that I have grown old, I realize that for most of us it is not enough to have achieved personal success. One’s best friend must also have failed.” Fortunately one is not obliged to accept as authentic every statement made by a columnist, and this ill-humored remark is quoted out of context.

Some readers may have misinterpreted the phrase “uttering a pure La Rochefoucauld” and concluded that the quotation was composed directly by La Rochefoucauld. But Cordell actual meant that the quote was stylistically and thematically congruent with the maxims of La Rochefoucauld. This similarity has caused confusion between the words of Maugham and La Rochefoucauld for decades as shown in the citations below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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