Advice Is Like Snow – The Softer It Falls, the Longer It Dwells Upon, and the Deeper It Sinks Into the Mind

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Jeremiah Seed? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Advice that is shouted as a command is often ignored. A different approach is more successful:

Advice is like snow – the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.

The prominent English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge has received credit for this thoughtful statement, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help trace this meta-advice?

Quote Investigator: Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in 1834 and this expression was assigned to him two years prior in 1832; however, QI believes that the words were based on a sermon delivered before the literary master was born.

Jeremiah Seed was a clergyman and Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford who died in 1747. A collection of his sermons which included a discourse “On Evil-Speaking” appeared shortly after his death. Seed presented three elaborate similes about giving advice gracefully: 1

We must consult the gentlest Manner and softest Seasons of Address: Our Advice must not fall, like a violent Storm, bearing down and making that to droop, which it was meant to cherish and refresh: It must descend, as the Dew upon the tender Herb; or like melting Flakes of Snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the Mind.

The popular modern version of the quotation was extracted from the above passage, simplified, and streamlined. Coleridge did not craft the simile and QI has located no direct evidence that he ever employed it. The ascription to him is unsupported.

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  1. 1747, Discourses on Several Important Subjects: To Which Are Added Eight Sermons Preached at the Lady Moyer’s Lecture in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London by Jeremiah Seed (Rector of Emham in Hampshire, and late Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford), Volume 1 of 2, Third Edition, Sermon XIV: On Evil-Speaking, Start Page 349, Quote Page 351, Printed for R. Manby and H. S. Cox, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

An Army Marches On Its Stomach

Napoleon Bonaparte? Frederick the Great? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proper logistics are crucial to any successful military campaign. The importance of food supply is highlighted in a well-known aphorism. Here are four versions:

  • An army marches on its stomach.
  • An army marches on its belly.
  • An army travels on its stomach.
  • An army goes upon its belly.

This saying has been ascribed to the famous leaders Napoleon Bonaparte and Frederick the Great. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1858 work “History of Friedrich the Second, Called Frederick the Great” by the prominent philosopher, essayist, and historian Thomas Carlyle. The saying occurred in the description of an unsuccessful military endeavor. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

They were stronger than Turk and Saracen, but not than Hunger and Disease. Leaders did not know then, as our little Friend at Berlin came to know, that “an Army, like a serpent, goes upon its belly.”

The referent “little Friend at Berlin” was ambiguous, but a later volume of this work by Carlyle clearly ascribed the adage to Frederick II, i.e., Frederick the Great.

Frederick II died in 1786 and Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821. An instance of the aphorism was attributed to Frederick II by 1858 and to Bonaparte by 1862. In each case the long delay reduced the credibility of the linkage.

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  1. 1858, History of Friedrich the Second, Called Frederick the Great by Thomas Carlyle, Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter 6: The Teutsch Ritters or Teutonic Order, Quote Page 83, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The Trouble With This Country is Too Many People Saying “The Trouble With This Country is …”

Sinclair Lewis? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I hear someone attempting to diagnose the problems of the world I am reminded of the following amusingly recursive remark:

The trouble with this country is that there are too many people saying, “The trouble with this country is…”

Although I roughly remember the quotation I do not recall who said it. Can you tell me who is responsible for this quip?

Quote Investigator: The American writer and noble laureate Sinclair Lewis included a matching remark in his 1929 satirical novel “Dodsworth”. The words were spoken by a character named General Herndon. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“The trouble with this country is,” observed Herndon, “that there’re too many people going about saying: ‘The trouble with this country is—–‘ And too many of us, who should be ruling the country, are crabbed by being called ‘General’ or ‘Colonel’ or ‘Doctor’ or that sort of thing. If you have a handle to your name, you have to be so jolly and democratic that you can’t control the mob.”

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  1. 1929 Copyright, Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis, Chapter 10, Quote Page 74, Reprint in 2000 by Amereon House, Mattituck, New York of original edition from Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Of Two Evils, Choose the Prettier

Carolyn Wells? Bruce Porter? Gelett Burgess? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following well-known adage concisely states a controversial moral principle:

Of two evils, choose the lesser.

I’ve heard these cynical variants:

  • Of two evils, choose the one you haven’t tried before.
  • Of two evils, a journalist will write about the one that gets the most clicks.
  • Of two evils, choose the prettier.

Would you please explore the history of the last statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1904 the popular and prolific writer and poet Carolyn Wells published a collection of short pieces called “Folly for the Wise”. A section titled “Maxioms” included these items. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Reward is its own virtue.
The wages of sin is alimony.
A penny saved spoils the broth.
Of two evils, choose the prettier.
Nonsense makes the heart grow fonder.
A word to the wise is a dangerous thing.

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  1. 1904, Folly for the Wise by Carolyn Wells, Maxioms, Quote Page 50, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Google Books Full View) link

I Don’t Like Spinach, and I’m Glad I Don’t, Because If I Liked It I’d Eat It, and I’d Just Hate It

Clarence Darrow? George Sand? Charles Paul de Kock? Henry Monnier? Eddie Drake? Heywood Broun? Irvin S. Cobb? Steven Pinker? Anonymous?

Disliked Food: Spinach? Carp Head? Eels? Oysters? Lobster? Lettuce? Green Peas? Beets?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous defense lawyer Clarence Darrow apparently had a very low opinion of the vegetable favored by the cartoon character Popeye. Darrow has been credited with the following comical tantrum:

I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just hate it.

Would you please explore the history of this logically twisted humor?

Quote Investigator: During 1834 and 1835 the prominent French author George Sand wrote her thoughts down in a private journal while she conducted a tempestuous love affair with the poet Alfred de Musset. Many years later in 1904 the periodical “La Renaissance Latine” published material from the journal including the following statement about épinards (spinach). Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . je serais bien fâchée d’aimer les épinards, car si je les aimais, j’en mangerais, et je ne les peux souffrir.

In 1929 an English translation appeared under the title “The Intimate Journal of George Sand”. The text showed clearly that the remark about spinach was already in circulation circa 1835, and Sand disclaimed credit: 2

Here is some logic I heard the other day. I’m glad I don’t care for spinach, for if I liked it I should eat it, and I cannot bear spinach.

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  1. 1904 July to September, La Renaissance Latine, Volume 3, Encore George Sand et Musset, Start Page 5, Quote Page 18, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1976 (Copyright 1929), The Intimate Journal of George Sand by George Sand, Translation and Notes by Marie Jenney Howe, Section: Journal of George Sand to Alfred de Musset, Quote Page 34, (Reprint of 1929 edition from Williams & Norgate, London), Haskell House Publishers, New York. (Verified with hard copy)

The Best Things in Life Are Not Things

Art Buchwald? Henry James Lee? Mrs. Kenneth Clarke? Linda Godeau? Laurence J. Peter? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: A popular modern adage de-emphasizes materialism:

The best things in life aren’t things.

This phrase has been attributed to the humorist Art Buchwald and the quotation collector Laurence J. Peter. What do you think?

Quote investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the “Illinois State Journal and Register” of Springfield, Illinois in 1948. An editorial piece about “The Fine Things of Life” employed a version of the saying without a precise ascription. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A person recently bereaved of an only sister, wrote to a friend: “Isn’t it wonderful that the really fine things of life are not things at all.” And so it is. Love, friendship, appreciation, kindness, honesty, thrift, and a multitude of life’s finest qualities, are intangible and spiritual but nevertheless, very real.

Laurence J. Peter placed the saying in one of his collections in 1982, but it was already in circulation. Art Buchwald was connected to the saying by 1989, but there was no substantive evidence that he crafted it.

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  1. 1948 October 24, Illinois State Journal and Register, The Fine Things of Life, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Springfield, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)

A Disordered Desk Is a Sign of Genius

Leo Tolstoy? Edwin H. Stuart? Elinor Glyn? Henry Traphagen? Art Buchwald? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While I am working hard on a complex project my desk usually becomes messy, but I take comfort in the following sayings:

  • A cluttered desk is the mark of a genius.
  • A messy desk is the sign of a creative mind.
  • An untidy desk is a sign of brilliance.

Would you please explore the history of this modern adage?

Quote Investigator: A strong match appeared in the journal “Typo Graphic” in 1947. The editor Edwin H. Stuart sent a questionnaire to his readers, and he was disappointed with the low response rate. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

When you did not reply we assumed that you may have: Moved to another city. …

Or, that you’re one of those geniuses who have a piled-up desk and you threw the card in the pile and it got lost.

Tolstoi said that a disordered desk was a sign of genius and we see lots of littered desks in our rambles around Pittsburgh.

Stuart used the alternative spelling “Tolstoi” while crediting Leo Tolstoy. QI has not yet found support for this ascription; however, QI has not attempted the difficult task of searching for a Russian instance.

This website also has articles about two related expressions: “A disordered desk is an evidence of a disordered brain” and “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, we can’t help wondering what an empty desk indicates”.

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  1. 1947 December, Typo Graphic, Page Title: Well Thanks, Brother, Article: Don’t Blame Us, Quote Page 36, Column 2, Publisher Edwin H. Stuart, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Library of University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)

Einstein’s Equation for Success in Life: A=X+Y+Z

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Einstein famously constructed a foundational equation about energy: E = mc². Apparently, he also fashioned a less-well-known humorous formula about success in life using the terms A, X, Y, and Z. Did Einstein actually craft this quasi-mathematical joke?

Quote Investigator: In 1929 Albert Einstein was interviewed by Samuel J. Woolf in Berlin for a piece published in “The New York Times Magazine”. The following passage appeared at the end of the article. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It was time for me to go and as he saw me to the door I asked him what he considered the best formula for success in life. He smiled, that same awkward bashful smile and thought for a minute.

“If A is success in life,” he replied, “I should say the formula is A=X+Y+Z, X being work and Y being play.” “And what,” I asked, “is Z?”

“That,” he answered, “is keeping your mouth shut.”

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  1. 1929 August 18, New York Times, Section 5: The New York Times Magazine, Einstein’s Own Corner of Space by S. J. Woolf, Start Page SM1, Quote Page SM2, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest)

What Fresh Hell Can This Be?

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The well-known wit Dorothy Parker brought forth laughter from others, but personally she experienced episodes of depression. Apparently, when her doorbell rang she would sometimes proclaim:

What fresh hell is this?

Is this an accurate claim?

Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and the earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the 1970 biography “You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker” by John Keats. The book records the testimony of journalist Vincent Sheean who was Parker’s friend: 1

“When it came time to leave the apartment to get a taxi, you could see this look of resolution come on her face,” he said. “Her chin would go up and her shoulders would go back; she would almost be fighting back fear and tears, as if to say to the world, ‘Do your worst; I’ll make it home all right.’ If the doorbell rang in her apartment, she would say, ‘What fresh hell can this be?’—and it wasn’t funny; she meant it.

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  1. 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Chapter 7, Quote Page 124, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on hardcopy)

If You Don’t Know Where You Are, You Probably Don’t Know Who You Are

Wendell Berry? Wallace Stegner? Ralph Ellison? Dorothy Noyes?

Dear Quote Investigator: The nature writer and activist Wendell Berry has been credited with a statement about knowing one’s place in the world:

If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.

Yet, this saying has also been ascribed to the novelist and critic Ralph Ellison. Would you please help clarify this situation?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 Ralph Ellison published the landmark novel “Invisible Man”. During one key episode in the book an old gentleman approaches the narrator to ask directions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are. That must be it, I thought—to lose your direction is to lose your face. So here he comes to ask his direction from the lost, the invisible. Very well, I’ve learned to live without direction. Let him ask.

As the forgetful gentleman approaches, the narrator recognizes him as Mr. Norton who has asked for directions in the past, and the two converse:

“Because, Mr. Norton, if you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t know who you are. So you came to me out of shame. You are ashamed, now aren’t you?”

“Young man, I’ve lived too long in this world to be ashamed of anything. Are you light-headed from hunger? How do you know my name?”

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  1. 1982 (Copyright 1952), Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Quote Page 564, Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)