Oscar Wilde? Edgar Saltus? Winston Churchill? Randolph Churchill? Lord Birkenhead? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I have discovered two very similar quotations that are credited to two very different people. The first is ascribed to the legendary wit Oscar Wilde:
I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
The second saying is attributed to the statesman Winston Churchill:
I am a man of simple tastes; I am easily satisfied with the best.
I have doubts that both quotes could be accurate, and I haven’t been able to find dates and solid citations for either. Can you help with this?
Quote Investigator: The author Edgar Saltus was a friend of Oscar Wilde, and in 1917 he released a short volume titled “Oscar Wilde: An Idler’s Impression” which included the following dialog between Saltus and Wilde: 1
“Come to my shop,” I said, “and have dinner with me. Though,” I added, “I don’t know what I can give you.”
“Oh, anything,” Wilde replied. “Anything, no matter what. I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”
Wilde died in 1900 so the recollection of Saltus was published many years after the event described. Quotation expert Ralph Keyes included Wilde’s remark in his collection “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” and cited the 1917 book of Saltus. 2 Quotation maven Nigel Rees also included the quip in “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations”. 3
Winston Churchill was associated with a similar statement, but he did not say the words himself. Instead, the comment was reportedly made by the British statesman F. E. Smith who used it when describing Churchill’s tastes. In the following newspaper account from 1948 Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill, used the name Lord Birkenhead when referring to Smith: 4
The only hotel Randolph Churchill was able to get into, during his stay in New York, was the Waldorf. Churchill shrugged: “As the late Lord Birkenhead said of my father: ‘Mr. Churchill is a man of very simple tastes. He is always prepared to put up with the best of everything.'”
Next is one additional citation followed by the conclusion.
In 1966 a version of the remark was included in the important reference collection “Irrepressible Churchill: A Treasury of Winston Churchill’s Wit”: 5
His good friend, Lord Birkenhead, once said of him, “Winston is a man of simple tastes, he is always prepared to put up with the best of everything.”
In conclusion, there is strong evidence that Oscar Wilde did make this humorous remark about his tastes though it was printed posthumously. There is also substantive evidence that F. E. Smith used a version of the clever phrase to characterize Winston Churchill. QI has found no evidence that Churchill spoke the words himself. Also, if Randolph Churchill was correct and Smith did make the remark then it seems possible that he was influenced directly or indirectly by the pre-existing comment from Wilde.
(Thanks to Crystal whose inquiry about two quotations provided the impetus for QI to fashion this question. Thanks also to R. Alistair Craik for his valuable comment.)
- 1917, Oscar Wilde: An Idler’s Impression by Edgar Saltus, Quote Page 20, Brothers of the Book, Chicago. (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, Page 17 and 166, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Taste, Page 421, Column 1, [Cassell, London], Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1948 July 28, Greensboro Record, The Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 6-A, Column 5, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1966, Irrepressible Churchill: A Treasury of Winston Churchill’s Wit by Kay Halle, Page 263, World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York. (Verified on paper) ↩