Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, the dress sense of a leading British politician was criticized, and his sharp rejoinder was based on a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein contrasting the relative importance of shabby clothes versus shabby ideas. Would you please examine the provenance of this statement?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of the quotation located by QI appeared in a 1949 compilation titled “Treasury of the Christian Faith: An Encyclopedic Handbook of the Range and Witness of Christianity” which included the following entry: 1
If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies. — Albert Einstein
Einstein died in 1955; hence, the statement was credited to him while he was still alive. However, the 1949 book did not present a supporting citation, and QI has not yet located any pointers to speeches, interviews, or essays by Einstein containing the saying.
The most comprehensive reference about Einstein’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression about “shabby ideas” was not present in this volume. 2
This entry presents a snapshot of QI’s research, and more information may be uncovered by other researchers. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1949, Treasury of the Christian Faith: An Encyclopedic Handbook of the Range and Witness of Christianity, Edited by Stanley I. Stuber and Thomas Curtis Clark, Quote Page 415, Column 1, Published by Association Press, New York. (Verified with scans; many thanks to Reformed Theological Seminary Library of Jackson, Mississippi) ↩
- 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper) (A search for the quotation was performed within a digital version of the text) ↩