H. G. Wells? Barbara Wootton? Lawrence R. Klein? Stanley Kramer? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: If you have ever experienced the manuscript editing process as an editor or an editee you should fully comprehend this quotation:
No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.
The above remark is in the current draft of my book, but the editor will strike it out unless I am able to find a good citation. The statement is usually attributed to the famous British science fiction author and social commentator H. G. Wells. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: At this time QI has been unable to locate a match within a text written or spoken by H. G. Wells who died in August 1946. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the 1945 book “Freedom Under Planning” by the prominent British sociologist Barbara Wootton. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
The worst examples of this are found sometimes in small political societies, where the strength of each member’s devotion to his own particular way of putting things is out of all proportion to the significant difference between his views and those of his fellows. It is here that the truth of H. G. Wells’ dictum that no passion in the world, no love or hate, is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft, is only too well illustrated. But, in greater or less degree, the same tendency to lay disproportionate emphasis on differences, and to ignore agreements, runs through all democratic political life.
Wootton did not enclose the remark within quotation marks, and it was possible that she was presenting her own phrasing of an opinion she ascribed to Wells. Alternatively, she may have heard the statement directly from Wells.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In March 1962 “The New York Times” printed an article about Lawrence R. Klein who was the long-time editor of a periodical produced by the U.S. Labor Department. Klein wished to improve the quality of the prose crafted by government workers. The article mentioned a sign that precisely repeated the words in the 1945 citation. This time the remark was enclosed in quotation marks: 2
Mr. Klein also has posted on his wall a quote from H. G. Wells: “No passion in the world, no love or hate, is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
In May 1962 “The Washington Post” also wrote about Klein and the journalist noticed two signs on the wall. One listed George Orwell’s six lessons toward good writing. The other displayed the words attributed to Wells; thus, the saying was further disseminated: 3
But he also has posted on the wall a quote from H. G. Wells: “No passion in the world, no love or hate, is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
In 1977 a letter printed in the correspondence section of the journal “Technical Communication” began with an instance of the quotation: 4
“No passion in the world, no love or hate, is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.” How could H. G. Wells have known of my enthusiasm while editing manuscripts at the Agricultural Research Service last year? My authors knew by my praise, cartoons, poems, and visits. In these ways, I showed and said that I liked the people, whether or not I liked their reports.
Also in 1977 an instance was included in the influential compendium “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter. But the statement was slightly streamlined; the phrase “no love or hate” was omitted: 5
No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft. —H. G. Wells
In 1983 a columnist in “The Seattle Times” of Seattle, Washington presented a shortened instance without attribution: 6
Most writers loathe editing. I’ve met very few who don’t subscribe to the belief that no passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.
In 1988 Helen Thomas who was a senior correspondent with the UPI news service noticed an instance posted on a sign. The phrasing was slightly different: 7
Deputy White House press secretary B. J. Cooper has a sign in his office, some wisdom collected over years in government: “No passion in the world, neither love nor hate, is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.” The words were first uttered by historian H.G. Wells.
In conclusion, this article represents a snapshot of what is known about this quotation. Some uncertainty remains about whether H.G. Wells made this precise statement. The accuracy depends on Barbara Wootton’s testimony, and she did not use quotation marks. The other citations may have been derived directly or indirectly from Wootton’s book. Perhaps future researchers will discover additional information.
Image Notes: Picture of person writing from WokinghamLibraries at Pixabay. Portrait of H.G. Wells circa 1918 via Wikimedia Commons.
(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. The statement about an editor threatening to strike out the quotation was added to provide a humorous fictional illustration of the behavior alluded to in the quotation. Grothe is the author of several clever and entertaining quotation books such as “Neverisms” and “Ifferisms”. His website is located here.)
- 1945, Freedom Under Planning by Barbara Wootton, Chapter 9: Political Freedom, Quote Page 147, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Fifth Printing June 1950) (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1962 March 25, New York Times, Capital’s Prose Facing Scrutiny: Labor Department Aide to Try to Improve Writing, (Special to the New York Times), Quote Page 75, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1962 May 7, The Washington Post, The Post Impressionist: Glory That Was Grease…’Hot’ Spiritual Climber by Jean White (Staff Reporter), Quote Page B1, Column 5, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1977 Fourth Quarter, Technical Communication, Volume 24, Number 4, Section: Correspondence, (Letter titled “Edit Personally” from Della A. Whittaker Ph.D., Harry Diamond Laboratories), Quote Page 2, Published by Society for Technical Communication (JSTOR) link ↩
- 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Section: Writing / Writers, Quote Page 513, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1983 June 26, The Seattle Times / Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Its’ a Mad World: The Write Stuff by Stanley Kramer (Times Columnist), Quote Page A32, Column 2, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1988 March 27, Kenosha News Sunday, Backstairs at White House by Helen Thomas (UPI White House Reporter), Quote Page A5, Column 1, Kenosha, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive) ↩