Money Can’t Buy Love, But It Improves Your Bargaining Position

Christopher Marlowe? Laurence J. Peter? Evan Esar? Anonymous?

love09Dear Quote Investigator: Christopher Marlowe was a brilliant poet and dramatist of the 1500s whose works influenced the luminary William Shakespeare. I was astonished to find the following statement attributed to him:

Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.

In my opinion, this expression is not from the 1500s and crediting Marlowe is nonsensical. Nevertheless, many websites dedicated to quotations present this dubious ascription. Would you please explore this quotation? Perhaps you could uncover the source of this inanity.

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in the twentieth century and not the sixteenth. In 1954 a newspaper in Iowa printed an instance of the saying in a humor column. The phrasing differed somewhat from the common modern expression, and no attribution was given: 1

Money cannot buy love, but it places one in an excellent bargaining position.

QI believes that the flawed attribution to Christopher Marlowe originated with the misreading of an influential book of quotations that was compiled by Laurence J. Peter and published in 1977. The details of this citation are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Christopher Marlowe who died in 1593 did compose a well-known poem about love called “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, but the work did not discuss money or bargaining. The following two verses were from a 1794 edition; the anomalous spellings were present in the text: 2

Come live with me and be my love,
And we wil all the pleasures prove
That hils and vallies, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

Humorous twists on the maxim that “money cannot buy love” have a long history. Here is an example from more than one hundred years ago that was printed in a Canadian newspaper of 1903. The meaning differed from the saying under investigation: 3

Money, it has been said, cannot buy love, but it often buys such a good counterfeit that it isn’t much matter.

In 1940 a collection of aphorisms titled “Meditations in Wall Street” by Anonymous was released. The author was later revealed to be a stockbroker named Henry Stanley Haskins. The following saying about love by Haskins is included here because it also appeared in the pivotal 1977 citation discussed further below: 4

The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the captain’s table.

In 1954 the earliest close match for the humorous adage under investigation was published in a newspaper in Elgin, Iowa as noted previously: 5

Money cannot buy love, but it places one in an excellent bargaining position.

In 1968 Evan Esar, the diligent collector of bon mots, included an instance of the maxim in “20,000 Quips and Quotes”: 6

Money cannot buy love, but it can put you in a good bargaining position.

In 1977 the popular compendium “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter printed a version of the aphorism enclosed in parentheses, but the presentation confused some readers. Consider the following contiguous text from the book; the first quotation was from Henry S. Haskins. The parenthetical comment was written and inserted by the editor Laurence J. Peter though he did not originate the statement. The final quotation was from Christopher Marlowe: 7

The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the captain’s table. —Henry S. Haskins (Money can’t buy love but it improves your bargaining position.)

Come live with me, and be my Love;/And we will all the pleasures prove. —Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

QI hypothesizes that one or more readers of the passage above incorrectly decided to ascribe the expression between parentheses to Christopher Marlowe. In addition, some individuals assigned the words to Peter.

For example, the 1981 book “Love: Emotion, Myth, and Metaphor” by Robert C. Solomon included the following text: 8

Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. LAURENCE J. PETER

In 2010 “The Mammoth Book of Great British Humor” credited the saying to Marlowe: 9

Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. Christopher Marlowe

In conclusion, this comical remark was in circulation by 1954, and initially it was anonymous. In 1977 Laurence J. Peter employed the adage in a compilation of sayings. Some individuals misread Peter’s book and assigned the words to Christopher Marlowe; other readers ascribed the saying to Peter.

Image Notes: A portrait, supposedly of Christopher Marlowe obtained via Wikimedia Commons. Heart image from OpenClips on Pixabay. Briefcase of money image from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Tony Fordyce whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1954 March 18, The Elgin Echo, Rich’s “Pipe Dreams”, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Elgin, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1794, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: Consisting of Old Heroic Ballads, Songs, and Other Pieces of Our Earlier Poets, Together with Some Few of Later Date, Volume 1, Fourth edition, Quote Page 234, Printed by John Nichols for F. and C. Rivington, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1903 June 11, 1903, The Brandon Weekly Sun, Surplus of 10,000,000, Quote Page 5, Column 4, Brandon, Manitoba. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1940, Meditations in Wall Street by Anonymous, With an Introduction by Albert Jay Nock, (“Anonymous” was Henry Stanley Haskins), Quote Page 86, William Morrow & Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View)
  5. 1954 March 18, The Elgin Echo, Rich’s “Pipe Dreams”, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Elgin, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  6. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Section: Love and Money, Quote Page 492, Column 1, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  7. 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Section: Love, Quote Page 309, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  8. 1981, Love: Emotion, Myth, and Metaphor by Robert C. Solomon, Quote Page 167, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  9. 2010, The Mammoth Book of Great British Humor, Edited by Michael Powell, Series: Mammoth Books, Quote Page 351, Constable & Robinson, London. (Google Books Preview; Amazon Look Inside)