Tag Archives: Charles Lamb

Do Not Wait To Strike Till the Iron Is Hot; But Make It Hot By Striking

William Butler Yeats? William B. Sprague? Benjamin Franklin? Richard Sharp? Charles Lamb? Charles Caleb Colton? Oliver Cromwell? Peleg Sprague? Ernest Hemingway? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular proverb highlights the limited duration of an opportunity:

Strike while the iron is hot.

This metaphor has been astutely extended with advice for greater challenges:

Make the iron hot by striking.

This full metaphor has been credited to the English military leader Oliver Cromwell, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and the American novelist Ernest Hemingway. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The basic proverb appeared in one of “The Canterbury Tales” called “The Tale of Melibeus” by Geoffrey Chaucer written in the latter half of the 1300s. Here is the original spelling together with a modern rendition. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

…whil that iren is hoot men scholden smyte…
…while the iron is hot men should smite…

The earliest full match known to QI appeared in a 1782 letter from the famous statesman Benjamin Franklin to Reverend Richard Price about using the press to spread ideas. The letter was included in “Memoirs of the Life of The Rev. Richard Price” published in 1815: 2

The facility with which the same truths may be repeatedly enforced by placing them daily in different lights in newspapers which are every where read, gives a great chance of establishing them. And we now find, that it is not only right to strike while the iron is hot, but that it may be very practicable to heat it by continually striking.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1860, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Edited by Thomas Wright, The Tale of Melibeus, Start Page 150, Quote Page 152, Richard Griffin and Company, London and Glasgow. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1815, Memoirs of the Life of The Rev. Richard Price by William Morgan, Volume 5, (Letter within footnote), Letter from: Benjamin Franklin, Letter to: Richard Price, Letter date: June 13, 1782, Start Page 95, Quote Page 96, Printed for R. Hunter, Successor to J. Johnson, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Positively, The Best Thing a Person Can Have To Do Is Nothing

Charles Lamb? Théophile Gautier? Anonymous?

relax07Dear Quote Investigator: When I was choosing a major in college, people would ask me what I wished to do in life. I am somewhat indolent; hence, the following response reflects my underlying beliefs:

The best thing to have to do is nothing.

I usually did not share this thought with others. Interestingly, a similar sentiment has been expressed by both the English essayist Charles Lamb and the French writer Théophile Gautier. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1827 Charles Lamb wrote a letter to the poet Bernard Barton. He offered to help his friend, and the missive included an instance of the saying: 1

I would willingly come and work for you three weeks or so, to let you loose. Would I could sell or give you some of my leisure! POSTIVELY, THE BEST THING A MAN CAN HAVE TO DO IS NOTHING! and, next to that, perhaps, GOOD WORKS!

Here are additional selected citations in largely chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1837, The Letters of Charles Lamb with a Sketch of His Life by Thomas Noon Talfourd, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter XVI: 1826 to 1828, Letter from Charles Lamb to Bernard Barton, Start Page 211, Quote Page 213, Published by Edward Moxon, Dover Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link

The Plays of Shakespeare Were Not Written by Shakespeare but by Another Man of the Same Name

Mark Twain? Oxford Student? Frenchman? Lewis Carroll? Schoolchild? G. K. Chesterton? Israel Zangwill? Charles Lamb? Benjamin Jowett? Aldous Huxley? Anonymous?

quill08Dear Quote Investigator: Determining the accurate provenance of famous plays and poems can be a contentious topic. According to tradition the composer of the Iliad and Odyssey has been referred to as Homer, but some question this ascription and wonder whether there may have been more than one “Homer”. The authorship of the works ascribed to Shakespeare has also been challenged for many years. Candidates for the Bard’s secret identity have included Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Christopher Marlowe. The fractious arguments about origins have inspired a family of jokes. Here are two examples:

The Homeric Poems were not written by Homer, but by another person of the same name.

The plays of Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare but by another man of the same name.

These remarks have been connected to well-known humorists and literary figures, e.g., Mark Twain, G. K. Chesterton, Lewis Carroll, Israel Zangwill, and Aldous Huxley. Would you please explore the history of these expressions?

Quote Investigator: Because these jokes can be stated in many ways they are difficult to trace. The earliest strong match known to QI was published in “The Spectator” of London in 1860. A news item by an unnamed writer discussed the possible discovery of a new planet and then made a joke about Shakespearean authorship theories: 1

This rivals the new discovery about Shakespeare,—that the well-known plays and poems were not by William Shakespeare, but by another person of the same name!

An analogous quip about Homer was published in a periodical in Oxford, England in 1874. Celebrated writers, such as Mark Twain and G. K. Chesterton, did employ versions of this joke, but they did not claim coinage. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1860 January 14, The Spectator, Volume 33, The “New Planet” and Its Discoverers, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Column 1, Published by Joseph Clayton, Wellington Street, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link