Tag Archives: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

You Yourself May Serve To Show It, That Every Fool Is Not a Poet

Jonathan Swift? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Alexander Pope? Théophile de Viau? Matthew Prior? Pierre de Ronsard? Scévole de Sainte-Marthe? Anonymous?

pope08Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a famous literary figure was accosted by a philistine who exclaimed that all poets were fools. The adroit spontaneous response provided a humorous comeuppance:

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may prove to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

These words have been credited to Jonathan Swift who wrote “Gulliver’s Travels”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge who wrote “Kubla Khan”, and Alexander Pope who write “The Dunciad”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match in English known to QI appeared in the third volume of a collection called “Miscellanies” published in 1733. The preface was dated May 27, 1727 and signed by Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) and Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744). The following piece was labeled “Epigram from the French”: 1

SIR, I admit your gen’ral Rule
That every Poet is a Fool:
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every Fool is not a Poet.

Top modern references such as “The Yale Book of Quotations” 2 and the “Oxford Dictionary of Quotations” have credited Alexander Pope, 3 but these references also presented the label which suggested that Pope was translating a pre-existing French verse. Indeed, QI has located an earlier French citation as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1733, Miscellanies: the Last Volume, (Preface by Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope dated May 27, 1727), Epigram from the French, Quote Page 57, Printed for Benjamin Motte, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Alexander Pope, Quote Page 599, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 8th Edition, Editor Elizabeth Knowles, Entry: Alexander Pope 1688–1744, Oxford Reference Online, Print Publication Date: 2014, Oxford University Press. (Accessed November 21, 2016)

I Do Not Believe in Ghosts Because I Have Seen Too Many of Them

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Don Marquis? Apocryphal?

banquo09Dear Quote Investigator: While perusing the book “Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time” I came across an entertaining topic for Halloween in the following entry about a famous poet: 1

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?” “No, ma’am,” he replied, “I’ve seen too many.” Lucy Finn

Did Coleridge really make this remark?

Quote Investigator: Yes, there is good evidence that he did make a comment of this type. The context helps to explain what he was trying to communicate.

Coleridge died in 1834, and more than sixty years later in 1895 excerpts from his unpublished notebooks were printed in the work “Anima Poetae”. An entry dated May 12, 1805 discussed an extraordinary episode during which Coleridge saw an apparition. He had been engaged in a long conversation with a companion who said goodbye and retired. Coleridge began to doze for five minutes while sitting in a red armchair. He awoke suddenly and perceived that his companion who had left was somehow still present. He was startled but started to doze again. Awakening he saw the same spectral figure: 2

The appearance was very nearly that of a person seen through thin smoke distinct indeed, but yet a sort of distinct shape and color, with a diminished sense of substantiality — like a face in a clear stream.

Coleridge’s skepticism about his own perceptions led him to record information about these mental excursions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Often and often I have had similar experiences, and, therefore, resolved to write down the particulars whenever any new instance should occur, as a weapon against superstition, and an explanation of ghosts — Banquo in “Macbeth” the very same thing. I once told a lady the reason why I did not believe in the existence of ghosts, etc., was that I had seen too many of them myself.

In the passage above Coleridge referred to Lord Banquo who was a character in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”; during the course of the drama Banquo was murdered by Lord Macbeth and reappeared as a ghost.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time, Compiled by Rosemarie Jarski, Quote Page 348, Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1895, Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Entry Title: Illusion, Entry Date: May 12, 1805, Start Page 122, Quote Page 123, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Leave Him With a Favorable Opinion of Himself

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Tryon Edwards? Apocryphal?

coleridge07Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite poem is “Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I love the poem’s opium inspired image of a “stately pleasure dome”. Serendipitously, I came across an insightful remark ascribed to Coleridge that contrasted different types of intellects:

If you would stand well with a great mind, leave him with a favorable impression of yourself; if with a little mind, leave him with a favorable impression of himself.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find this in Coleridge’s oeuvre. Is this attribution accurate?

Quote Investigator: The acclaimed poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge did pen a very similar remark within his critical analysis of a book by Sir Thomas Browne. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The difference between a great mind’s and a little mind’s use of history is this. The latter would consider, for instance, what Luther did, taught, or sanctioned: the former, what Luther,—a Luther,—would now do, teach, and sanction. This thought occurred to me at midnight, Tuesday, the 16th of March, 1824, as I was stepping into bed,—my eye having glanced on Luther’s Table Talk.

If you would be well with a great mind, leave him with a favorable impression of you;—if with a little mind, leave him with a favorable opinion of himself.

Coleridge died in 1834, and the excerpt above appeared in a posthumous 1836 collection titled “The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge” edited by his uncle, Henry Nelson Coleridge.

The modern saying provided by the questioner evolved from the original statement. The phrase “be well” was changed to “stand well”; “you” was changed to “yourself”; and “opinion” was changed to “impression”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1836, The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Collected and Edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Volume 2, Notes on Sir Thomas Browne’s Vulgar Errors, Address to the Reader, Start Page 406, Quote Page 411, William Pickering, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Chance, Coincidence, Miracles, Pseudonyms, and God

Albert Einstein? Théophile Gautier? Alexis de Valon? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Helena Blavatsky? Dr. Paul F.? Heidi Quade? Bonnie Farmer? Charlotte C. Taylor? Doris Lessing? Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole?

chance10Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is attributed to the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein:

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

I have been unable to find any solid information to support this ascription. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type. It is not listed in the comprehensive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

This topic is large, complex, and tangled. QI believes that the remark evolved from a family of interrelated sayings that can be traced back many years. These sayings did not have the same meaning, but QI believes that the earlier statements influenced the emergence of the later statements.

Below is a summary list with dates of the pertinent quotations. The shared theme was an examination of the connections between chance, coincidence, Providence, and God. The term “Providence” refers to the guardianship and care provided by God, a deity, or nature viewed as a spiritual force. Statements in French are accompanied with a translation.

1777: What is called chance is the instrument of Providence. (Horace Walpole)

1795: Quelqu’un disait que la Providence était le nom de baptême du Hasard, quelque dévot dira que le Hasard est un sobriquet de la Providence. (Nicolas Chamfort) [Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.]

1845: Le hasard, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer. (Théophile Gautier) [Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not want to sign.]

1897: Il faut, dans la vie, faire la part du hasard. Le hasard, en définitive, c’est Dieu. (Anatole France) [In life we must make all due allowance for chance. Chance, in the last resort, is God.]

1949: Chance is the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign. (misattribution: Anatole France)

1976: He defined coincidence as a miracle in which God chose to remain anonymous. (Dr. Paul F. of Indianapolis, Indiana)

1979: A coincidence is a small miracle where God chose to remain anonymous. (Anonymous in “Shop with Sue”)

1984: A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Heidi Quade)

1985: Coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Bonnie Farmer)

1986: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (Charlotte Clemensen Taylor)

1997: Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. (attribution: Doris Lessing)

2000: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (misattribution: Albert Einstein)

Details for these statements together with additional selected citations in chronological order are given below.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)

Most Conversations Are Simply Monologues Delivered in the Presence of a Witness

Mark Twain? Margaret Millar? Elizabeth P. O’Connor? Rebecca West? Leo Buscaglia? Anonymous?

bat07Dear Quote Investigator: The following entertaining remark is often attributed to Mark Twain:

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.

I have also seen these words ascribed to the award-winning mystery writer Margaret Millar. Could you determine who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain wrote or spoke the statement above. The phrase should be credited to Margaret Millar although the original wording was slightly different because it used the singular word “witness”. In the 1942 novel “The Weak-Eyed Bat” Millar wrote the following exchange. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“As a matter of fact, have you never noticed that most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness?”

“No,” Jakes said.

“Well, listen next time you hear a couple of women talking. They’ll each have a list of likes and dislikes that they intend to reel off. Now wouldn’t it be much simpler for Mrs. Smith to sit in front of a mirror and read her list without competition…”

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Notes:

  1. 1942, The Weak-Eyed Bat by Margaret Millar, Quote Page 117, Published for the Crime Club by Doubleday, Doran & Co., Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to the library system of University of North Carolina, Greensboro)

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer in San Francisco

Locale: San Francisco, California? Paris, France? Duluth, Minnesota? Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

Originator: Mark Twain? Horace Walpole? James Quin? R. Q. Grant? Lord Byron? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Living in Menlo Park near San Francisco I have heard the following witticism credited to Mark Twain many times:

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.

I actually enjoy the weather here, so this saying always seemed implausible to me. Also, the San Francisco Chronicle once printed an article that cast doubt on the Twain attribution. Can you figure out who created this joke? Also, was the remark originally about SF or some other locale?

Quote Investigator: There is no evidence in the papers and speeches of Mark Twain that he ever made this remark about San Francisco. There is a letter discussed below from Twain in which he commented on a similar type of jest, but he expressed unhappiness with the weather of Paris and not San Francisco.

Top-flight researcher Stephen Goranson located the earliest known evidence of this joke-type in a letter written by Horace Walpole, a prominent literary figure and politician in England. Walpole attributed the remark to James Quin, a leading actor in London in the 1700s. This jest is distinct but it is closely related to the quip given by the questioner. The location of the cold weather was not specified. The letter was written during the summer of 1789 in July [HWJQ]:

Quin, being once asked if he had ever seen so bad a winter, replied, “Yes, just such an one last summer!”—and here is its youngest brother!

This comical observation and its ascription reached the attention of Mark Twain who mentioned it in a letter in 1880 while criticizing Parisian climate. The text of the letter is viewable at the authoritative Mark Twain Project Online [MTJQ]:

… for anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the Damnable. More than a hundred years ago somebody asked Quin, “Did you ever see such a winter in all your life before?” “Yes,” said he, “Last summer.” I judge he spent his summer in Paris.

Several fine researchers have noted the existence of this letter linking Twain to the quip about cold weather including Ralph Keyes [NGRK] [QVRK], Fred Shapiro [YQMT], and Barbara Schmidt [TQSF].

The modern phrasing of the saying was used by the beginning of the 1900s, but the initial target of the barb was not San Francisco. Instead, the joke was directed at a genuinely frosty locale: Duluth, Minnesota. The Duluth News-Tribune in 1900 recounted a version of the saying while using a belligerently defensive tone [DNDM]:

One of these days somebody will tell that mouldy chestnut about the finest winter he ever saw being the summer he spent in Duluth, and one of these husky commercial travelers, who have been here and know all about our climate, will smite him with an uppercut and break his slanderous jaw. The truth will come out in time.

The above instance in 1900 used the word “finest” instead of “coldest”. In June 1901 in a Kentucky newspaper an employee of the weather bureau deployed a version of the saying that closely matched a modern template. Once again the weather in Duluth was the subject [KYDM]:

In a recent conversation with Mr. R. Q. Grant, of the State College Weather Bureau, a Herald reporter learned that the life of the employes of the United States Weather Bureau service is one filled with interesting experiences. …

Later Mr. Grant was sent to Pike’s Peak, where he established the station now there. Another assignment was to Duluth, Minn., where he learned to appreciate rapid changes in temperature. He says the coldest winter he ever experienced was the summer he spent in Duluth.

Over a span of more than one hundred years many locations were substituted into this jest including: Milwaukee, Two Harbors, Grand Marais, Puget Sound, Buffalo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

Note that Mark Twain lived until 1910, so the expression was being used while he was still alive. Yet, the words were not attributed to him in any of the early instances. The first citation found by QI in which Twain’s name was invoked was dated 1928 and the subject was Duluth. The details are recorded further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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