W. Somerset Maugham? John Colton? Clemence Randolph? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: As a high school student I came across a wonderful zinger spoken to a self-important individual. I cannot recall the exact wording, but it was something like this:
I perceive, Sir, you have a sufficiently good opinion of yourself that you can bear mine with equanimity.
Would you please help me to trace this expression?
Quote Investigator: In 1921 W. Somerset Maugham published the short story “Miss Thompson” in “The Smart Set” magazine. 1 Within the tale a missionary, Reverend Alfred Davidson, believed that he could change the behavior of a prostitute, Sadie Thompson, but he dramatically failed in the task. The quotation was spoken during a dialog between Davidson and the character Dr. MacPhail. The tale has been reprinted many times under the title “Rain”. 2
“Please don’t bear me malice because I can’t accede to your wish,” said Davidson, with a melancholy smile. “I respect you very much, doctor, and I should be sorry if you thought ill of me.”
“I have no doubt you have a sufficiently good opinion of yourself to bear mine with equanimity,” he retorted.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Somerset Maugham’s story was successfully adapted for the stage by John Colton and Clemence Randolph as “Rain: A Play in Three Acts” in 1922. The playwrights preserved the line: 3
[With a melancholy smile] Please don’t bear malice toward me because I cannot accede to your wish—I respect you very much, Doctor—and I should be sorry if you thought ill of me.
I have no doubt you have a sufficiently good opinion of yourself to bear mine with equanimity.
In 1943 “The Pocket Book of Short Stories: American, English and Continental Masterpieces” reprinted the short story; hence, the line continued to circulate. 4
In conclusion, W. Somerset Maugham should receive credit for the words he wrote in 1921. The same line also occurred in the play that was adapted from Maugham’s story.
(Great thanks to Dave Macmurchie whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Dave Wilton who helped QI by accessing the database containing “The Smart Set”.)
- 1921 April, The Smart Set, Miss Thompson by W. Somerset Maugham, Start Page 3, Quote Page 19, Column 1, The Smart Set Company, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals from the Center for Research Libraries) ↩
- 1939 (1921 Copyright), The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands by W. Somerset Maugham, Short Story: Rain, Start Page 241, Quote Page 282 and 283, Doubleday, Doran and Company, New York. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link ↩
- 1923, Rain: A Play in Three Acts, Written by John Colton and Clemence Randolph, Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s story “Miss Thompson”, Quote Page 159, Boni and Liveright, New York . (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1963 (1941 Copyright), The Pocket Book of Short Stories: American, English and Continental Masterpieces, Edited by M. Edmund Speare, Rain by W. Somerset Maugham, Start Page 124, Quote Page 152, Washington Square Press in New York. (Verified with scans) ↩