There But for the Grace of God, Goes God

Winston Churchill? Leo C. Rosten? Walter Winchell? Herman J. Mankiewicz? Apocryphal?
orsonDear Quote Investigator: Winston Churchill had an unhappy experience negotiating with a politician who held a very high opinion of himself. Afterward Churchill reportedly concocted the perfect remark for deflating the pretensions of an egomaniac:

There, but for the grace of God, goes God.

However, I have heard that this same jibe was aimed at the renowned auteur Orson Welles during the filming of “Citizen Kane”. Would you please explore the provenance of this witticism?

Quote Investigator: This remark was based on a comical modification of a resonant phrase from history. Here are two instances:

There but for the grace of God, go I.
There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.

More information about the origin of this penitent statement is available here.

The earliest evidence of the quip located by QI was printed in the 1941 book “Hollywood: The Movie Colony, The Movie Makers” by Leo C. Rosten which included the quotation applied to filmmaker Orson Welles. Rosten did not identify the person who delivered the barb. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[1]1941 copyright, Hollywood: The Movie Colony: The Movie Makers by Leo C. Rosten, Quote Page 51, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Facsimile produced on demand in 1973 by University Microfilms, … Continue reading

When Orson Welles (of whom someone said, “There, but for the grace of God, goes God”) was first shown through a studio he exclaimed, “This is the biggest electric train any boy ever had!” The remark is acute and revealing.

QI is not certain of the precise release date in 1941 of the “Hollywood” book. On January 20, 1941 the widely-distributed syndicated columnist Walter Winchell presented a different version of the circumstances surrounding the quotation. The target of the barb was a religious figure named Father Divine instead of Orson Welles. The word “niftied” was a vocabulary item employed by Winchell. It meant the spoken phrase was “nifty”, i.e., deft. The name “Divine” was spelled “Devine” in the paper:[2] 1941 January 20, Omaha World Herald, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 5, Column 5-6, Omaha, Nebraska.(GenealogyBank)

The Story Tellers: The DAC News reports that a Harlemite watching Father Devine whisk by in a long limousine, niftied: “There, but for the grace of God—goes God.”

Above are the two earliest citations located by QI, and the temporal ordering was uncertain. The tale mentioning Orson Welles has circulated continuously to the present day. The version with Father Divine has largely disappeared from collective memory. A third version with Winston Churchill speaking the humorous line entered circulation by 1943 as indicated by the citation listed further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There But for the Grace of God, Goes God

References

References
1 1941 copyright, Hollywood: The Movie Colony: The Movie Makers by Leo C. Rosten, Quote Page 51, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Facsimile produced on demand in 1973 by University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan) (Verified on paper in facsimile)
2 1941 January 20, Omaha World Herald, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 5, Column 5-6, Omaha, Nebraska.(GenealogyBank)

There But For the Grace of God, Go I

John Bradford? George Whitfield? John Newton? Sherlock Holmes? Philip Neri? Dwight Moody? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A deeply religious individual once saw a man being led to the gallows and said:

There but for the grace of God, go I.

In modern times, this proverbial phrase is used to express empathetic compassion and a sense of good fortune realized by avoiding hardship. A version has been ascribed to the preacher John Bradford who died in 1555:

There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford

But the earliest citation I have seen was published in the 1800s. A similar story has been told about others including John Newton and Dwight Moody. Is there earlier support for the existence of this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1771 a sermon was delivered in Kidderminster, England about a man who had been robbed and murdered. The criminal had been apprehended, tried, and executed. The preacher mentioned John Bradford and presented a somewhat clumsy and lengthy version of the saying. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[1]1771, Murther lamented and improved: Sermon Preached at Kidderminster, June 16, 1771. On Occasion of the Death of Mr. Francis Best, Who was Robbed and Murthered by John Child, on Saturday, June 8, by … Continue reading

…when Mr. Bradford, an eminent martyr, in the bloody reign of Queen Mary, saw a malefactor going to Tyburn, he humbly adored the distinguishing grace of God, ‘to which says he, it is entirely owing, that John Bradford is not in that man’s condition.’

The passage above matched the modern version because it included two key elements. Bradford invoked the grace of God, and he indicated that he might have been substituted for the malefactor, but the phrasing was quite different. This was the earliest match located by QI, and it was published more than two hundred years after the death of Bradford. Of course, future research may antedate this citation.

In 1774 a more concise instance of the saying was spoken during a sermon delivered at the Parish Church of St. Anne, Black-Friars, London. The phrasing still differed from the modern instance, but it moved closer:[2]1775, Free Will and Merit fairly examined: or Men not their own Saviors: The Substance of a Sermon Preached in the Parish Church of St. Anne, Black-Friars, London On Wednesday, May 25, 1774 by … Continue reading

I have heard, or read, concerning that excellent Dignitary of the Church of England, Mr. John Bradford (who was also burned for adhering to her Doctrines), that, one Day, on seeing a Malefactor pass to Execution, he laid his Hand to his Breast, and lifted his Eyes to Heaven, saying, “Take away the GRACE of God, and there goes John Bradford.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There But For the Grace of God, Go I

References

References
1 1771, Murther lamented and improved: Sermon Preached at Kidderminster, June 16, 1771. On Occasion of the Death of Mr. Francis Best, Who was Robbed and Murthered by John Child, on Saturday, June 8, by Benjamin Fawcett, Quote Page 14, Shrewsbury: Printed by J. Eddower, and sold by J. Buckland, Pater-noster-Row, London. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1775, Free Will and Merit fairly examined: or Men not their own Saviors: The Substance of a Sermon Preached in the Parish Church of St. Anne, Black-Friars, London On Wednesday, May 25, 1774 by Augustus Toplady, Vicar of Broad Hembury, (Footnote split across two pages), Quote Page 24 and 25, Printed for J. Mathews, in The Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

How Can They Tell?

Dorothy Parker? Wilson Mizner? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States, and his highly reserved character in social settings led to the nickname “Silent Cal”. A few years after his death in 1933 two similar anecdotes began to circulate about the spoken reaction to the news of Coolidge’s demise. Reportedly, when the wit Dorothy Parker was notified she said:

How can they tell?

Also, when the raconteur Wilson Mizner was told he said:

How do they know?

What evidence is there for these two tales?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in the 1936 book “Enjoyment of Laughter” by Max Eastman in a chapter about the use of exaggeration in humor:[1] 1936, Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman, Quote Page 155, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)

…Dorothy Parker’s remark when told that Calvin Coolidge was dead: How can they tell?

In 1937 a review of Eastman’s book was printed in “The Glasgow Herald” of Scotland, and the remark ascribed to Parker was reprinted[2] 1937 May 13, The Glasgow Herald, American Humour (Book Review of Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman), Quote Page 2, Colum 4, Glasgow, Scotland. (Google News Archive)]

But here one gives the prize to Dorothy Parker, that vitriolic lady who “can’t read Wodehouse.” When told that President Coolidge was dead all she said was, “How can they tell?”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Can They Tell?

References

References
1 1936, Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman, Quote Page 155, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
2 1937 May 13, The Glasgow Herald, American Humour (Book Review of Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman), Quote Page 2, Colum 4, Glasgow, Scotland. (Google News Archive)]

Nobody Will Ever Win the Battle of the Sexes. There’s Too Much Fraternizing with the Enemy

Henry Kissinger? M. Z. Remsburg? James Thurber? Ann Landers? Robert Orben? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a joke about the uneasy relationship between the sexes that has been told for decades:

Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.

In the 1970s this statement was attributed to the U.S. foreign policy specialist Henry Kissinger, but I suspect that the quip existed before the 1970s. Would you explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: A version of this jest was circulating by the 1940s. In February 1944 a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas printed the following as a short filler item. No specific attribution or acknowledgement was given:[1] 1944 February 16, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 8, Column 1, Lubbock, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)

“One war that will never be won by either side is the continual war between the sexes,” declares a columnist. That’s true, mainly because there is so much fraternizing with the enemy on the part of both sides.

Only part of the text was placed between quotation marks because there were two participants in the joke. The quoted words of the columnist were followed by the humorous reaction of a second unidentified person. The common modern versions of the joke simplify the presentation so that there is only one speaker.

In August 1945 a newspaper in Covina, California printed an instance of the quip and named an editor as the source, but QI suspects that the editor was simply relaying a pre-existing joke. The semantically redundant phrase “on the part of both sides” in the 1944 version has been omitted from most later instances:[2] 1945 August 24, Covina Argus-Citizen, ‘Round the State by Leone Baxter, Quote Page 9, Column 6, Covina, California. (Newspaper Archive)

FRATERNIZATION AGAIN

According to word from editor M. Z. Remsburg of the Vista Press, the reason the war between the sexes will never be ended is that there is too much fraternizing with the enemy!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nobody Will Ever Win the Battle of the Sexes. There’s Too Much Fraternizing with the Enemy

References

References
1 1944 February 16, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 8, Column 1, Lubbock, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)
2 1945 August 24, Covina Argus-Citizen, ‘Round the State by Leone Baxter, Quote Page 9, Column 6, Covina, California. (Newspaper Archive)

Every Election Is a Sort of Advance Auction Sale of Stolen Goods

Ambrose Bierce? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a comically acerbic remark about elections that is often attributed to the famous cynic Ambrose Bierce:

An election is nothing more than the advanced auction of stolen goods.

Several of my friends have told me that these are actually the words of the influential journalist and pundit H. L. Mencken, but no one seems to have a precise citation. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Ambrose Bierce said or wrote this comment.

In 1956 the press of Johns Hopkins University released an important compilation of essays by H. L. Mencken under the title “A Carnival of Buncombe” edited by Malcolm Moos. An essay called “Sham Battle” was published in the “Baltimore Evening Sun” on October 26, 1936, and it has been reprinted in this collection. Mencken presented an uncompromisingly harsh evaluation of the electoral process. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[1]1956, A Carnival of Buncombe by H. L. Mencken, Edited by Malcolm Moos, Sham Battle by H. L. Mencken Start Page 323, Quote Page 325, (“Baltimore Evening Sun” article dated October 26, … Continue reading

The state—or, to make the matter more concrete, the government—consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Government, of course, has other functions, and some of them are useful and even valuable. It is supposed, in theory, to keep the peace, and also to protect the citizen against acts of God and the public enemy.

QI believes that the modern version of the saying was derived from the 1936 passage above.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Election Is a Sort of Advance Auction Sale of Stolen Goods

References

References
1 1956, A Carnival of Buncombe by H. L. Mencken, Edited by Malcolm Moos, Sham Battle by H. L. Mencken Start Page 323, Quote Page 325, (“Baltimore Evening Sun” article dated October 26, 1936), Published by Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Maryland. (Verified on paper in 1956 book)(At this time QI has not directly confirmed the presence of the essay in the “Baltimore Evening Sun” on the date specified. The quotation does not seem to be present in the ProQuest database of the “Baltimore Sun”. This is understandable because the content in the morning and evening editions of “The Sun” differed)