Mark Twain? Ossip Gabrilowitsch? Clara Clemens? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: I’m conducting a research check on a television script containing a definition for the term “conspiracy” credited to Mark Twain. The definition notes that the conspiring participants “dare not admit in public” the secret agreement. Are you familiar with this quotation? Is the attribution to Twain accurate?
Quote Investigator: The ascription of this conspiracy quotation to Mark Twain is incorrect. Instead, Twain’s son-in-law, a prominent musician named Ossip Gabrilowitsch, probably crafted the quotation.
In 1909 Twain’s daughter Clara Clemens married Gabrilowitsch, a concert pianist who became the director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He died in 1936, and she published a biographical work titled “My Husband, Gabrilowitsch” in 1938. Clara Clemens included an excerpt from a letter written by Gabrilowitsch who believed that local musicians in Detroit were not being evaluated and hired in an equitable manner by the Symphony Society. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Do you mean to infer that a man from New York or Boston, all things being equal, should have the preference over the Detroit man and should even receive a larger fee? Neither you nor the Board of Directors would be willing to own up to such a policy. Why, it would amount practically to a conspiracy (for a conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public).
Since the passage above was presented as text from a Gabrilowitsch letter he was the most likely author of the quotation in boldface; however, it remains conceivable that Clara Clemens added the parenthetical elaboration; thus, she was the creator of the statement. Whichever possibility was true, one may still conclude that Mark Twain was not the coiner.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Six decades later in 1998 the statement was remembered by a Usenet participant using the handle “ace of clubs” who sent a message to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. The quotation with the proper attribution appeared at the end of the message: 2
A conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public.
In 2004 a guest editorial by Hamilton E. Russell III in “The State” newspaper of Columbia, South Carolina assigned the quotation to the famous humorist Mark Twain: 3
Mark Twain once said that a “conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public.”
In 2005 the book “Conspiracy Encyclopedia: The Encyclopedia of Conspiracy Theories” by Thom Burnett et al also credited Twain: 4
“A conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public,” wrote Mark Twain. This book is full of proven examples of that very thing.
In 2007 a Usenet post in the newsgroup alt.politics.economics credited Twain: 5
“A conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public”
—- Mark Twain
In conclusion, the quotation under examination should probably be credited to Ossip Gabrilowitsch who was Mark Twain’s son-in-law. Somehow the quotation which first appeared in a book by Twain’s daughter Clara Clemens was reassigned directly to Twain.
(Great thanks to Amy Lloyd whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Barbara Schmidt who runs the valuable website TwainQuotes.com which is filled with articles about the luminary and genuine quotations. Schmidt accessed the 1938 book “My Husband, Gabrilowitsch” and shared key page scans with QI.)
Image Notes: Picture of conductor Ossip Gabrilowitsch and his wife Clara Clemens from the U.S. Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division. Both images were accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Illustration of a secret key from KERBSTONE at Pixabay.
Update History: On January 14, 2017 the citation for the 2006 edition of “Conspiracy Encyclopedia” was replaced by a citation for 2005 edition the book.
- 1938, My Husband, Gabrilowitsch by Clara Clemens, Quote Page 147, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans; great thanks to Barbara Schmidt ) ↩
- 1998 March 5, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.religion.scientology, From: ace of clubs @blackjack.no, Subject: Re: The Missing Ten Months. (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 3, 2016) link ↩
- 2004 July 13, The State, Section: Editorial, Phone Market Not Ready for Deregulation Bill, Author/Byline: Hamilton E. Russell III (Guest columnist), Quote Page A7, Columbia, South Carolina. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 2005, Conspiracy Encyclopedia: The Encyclopedia of Conspiracy Theories, Introduction by Thom Burnett, Quote Page 279, Chamberlain Bros., New York; Member of Penguin Group. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- 2007 February 27, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.politics.economics, From: Raymond @aol.com, Subject: “A conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for. (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 3, 2016) link ↩