Tag Archives: Walter Scott

Don’t Wrestle with a Chimney Sweep or You Will Get Covered with Grime

William Adams? James Boswell? Walter Scott? Jonah Barrington? Viscount Bolingbroke? Henry Van Dyke? John Bright? John J. Keane? William Wedgwood Benn? Tony Benn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you are attacked with falsehoods and invective it is natural to respond with abusive language; however, viewers of the interaction may feel revulsion for both the attacker and the defender. This notion has been expressed using a vivid analogy. Here are three examples:

  1. You can’t wrestle with a chimney sweep and come out clean.
  2. He who wrestles with a sweep must expect to be begrimed with soot.
  3. Never wrestle with a chimney sweep.

The British politician Tony Benn employed this saying. Would you please examine its history?

Quote Investigator: The celebrated multi-volume biography “The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell included a pithy instance of the expression in a section recounting events in 1776. The saying was spoken to Samuel Johnson by William Adams who was Master of Pembroke College, University of Oxford. Interestingly, Johnson disagreed with the advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Johnson coincided with me and said, “When a man voluntarily engages in an important controversy, he is to do all he can to lessen his antagonist, because authority from personal respect has much weight with most people, and often more than reasoning. If my antagonist writes bad language, though that may not be essential to the question, I will attack him for his bad language.”

ADAMS. “You would not jostle a chimney-sweeper.”

JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir, if it were necessary to jostle him down.”

Adams employed a version of the metaphor without elaboration, and Johnson understood it readily; hence, both may have already heard similar phrases.

QI has an article on an entertaining variant adage that appeared later: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, in Chronological Order by James Boswell, Volume 2 of 2, Time period specified: 1776, Quote Page 24 and 25, Printed by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Resolve To Be Tender with the Young and Compassionate with the Aged

Gautama Buddha? Walter Scott? Lloyd Shearer? George Washington Carver? Dale Turner? Ann Landers? Bob Goddard? Anonymous?

striving09Dear Quote Investigator: The end of the year is fast approaching and some of your readers may be thinking about formulating New Year’s resolutions. I have heard a heartfelt resolution that encouraged one to be “compassionate with the aged”, “sympathetic with the striving”, and “tolerant of the weak”. The words were attributed to the Buddha, but the phrasing sounded modern. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: “Parade Magazine” is a mass-circulation supplement that is packaged with Sunday newspapers in the U.S. On December 30, 1973 the front page of the magazine presented a set of ten resolutions which included the following four. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Avoid zealots. They are generally humorless.

Resolve to listen more and to talk less. No one ever learns anything by talking.

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.

Resolve to love next year someone you didn’t love this year. Love is the most enriching ingredient of life.

The copyright notice at the bottom of the page listed “Walter Scott” which was a pen name of the long-time gossip columnist Lloyd Shearer. QI believes Shearer assembled the resolutions and should be credited with crafting the full expression listed in bold. QI also notes that some sub-phrases have been employed by other writers in the past.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1973 December 30, The Sun-Telegram: Serving the Inland Empire (The San Bernardino County Sun), Section: Parade Magazine (Sunday newspaper supplement from Parade Publications, Inc., New York), (Ten resolutions were printed on the cover of Parade Magazine; the copyright notice named “Walter Scott”, the pen name of Lloyd Shearer), Quote Page 1, San Bernardino, California. (Newspapers_com)