Other People’s Interruptions of Your Work Are Relatively Insignificant Compared With the Countless Times You Interrupt Yourself

Brendan Francis? Edward F. Murphy? Jonathon Green? Sherwin D. Smith? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I came across the following quotation in the 1978 reference “The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations” compiled by Edward F. Murphy:[ref] 1978 Copyright, The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations, Compiled by Edward F. Murphy, Topic: Quotation, Quote Page 500, Crown Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority.

The reference credited Brendan Francis, but I have been unable to discover anything about Francis. Does he really exist? I suspect that the name is a pseudonym. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Your suspicions are justified. “The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations” included more than sixty entries ascribed to Brendan Francis. In 1999 researcher Thomas Fuller attempted to learn more about Francis and concluded that Francis was actually a pseudonym for Edward F. Murphy who compiled the book. QI agrees with this hypothesis. Evidence is presented further below.

Here is a sampling of six statements in Murphy’s book ascribed to Brendan Francis:[ref] 1978 Copyright, The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations, Compiled by Edward F. Murphy, Topic: Interruption, Quote Page 382, Topic: Psychiatry, Quote Page 497, Topic: Decision, Quote Page 205, Topic: Retire, Quote Page 510, Topic: Rights, Quote Page 512, Topic: Writers and Writing, Quote Page 597, Crown Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

Other people’s interruptions of your work are relatively insignificant compared with the countless times you interrupt yourself.

Many a patient, after countless sessions, has quit therapy, because he could detect no perceptible improvement in his shrink’s condition.

Some persons are very decisive when it comes to avoiding decisions.

Most people perform essentially meaningless work. When they retire, that truth is borne in upon them.

Rights are something other people grant you after you’ve fought tooth-and-nail for them.

What an author likes to write most is his signature on the back of a check.

Murphy was a mathematics teacher in Manhattan.[ref] 1991, Baseball’s Greatest Quotations, Compiled by Paul Dickson, Section: Shakespeare On Baseball, Quote Page 390, Edward Burlingame Books: An Imprint of HarperCollins, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref] He published groups of quotations in periodicals such as “The New York Times”[ref] 1961 April 30, New York Times, Play Ball!, Compiled by Edward F. Murphy, (Collection of quotations about baseball), Quote Page SM54, Column 2 and 3, New York. (ProQuest) [/ref] and “Sports Illustrated”.[ref] 1976 September 13, Sports Illustrated, Football formation in which Bobby Layne, T. S. Eliot both call signals, Compiled by Edward F. Murphy, (Collection of quotations about football), Page number unspecified, Time Inc. New York. (Sports Illustrated Vault at vault.si.com; accessed May 18, 2022) [/ref]

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Sherwin D. Smith was an editor of “The New York Times Magazine”, and in 1978 he reviewed Edward F. Murphy’s “Crown Treasury” quotation book. Smith suggested in a parenthetical remark that Murphy had used a pseudonym to include his own quotations, but Smith did not identify the pseudonym:[ref] 1978 December 24, The New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, Passion for Words by Sherwin D. Smith, (Book Review of Edward F. Murphy’s “The Crown Treasury of Relevant Quotations”, Quote Page BR14, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest) [/ref]

Puzzle: How many times did the editor include himself, and under what pseudonym?

In 1982 English lexicographer Jonathon Green published a compilation under two different titles: “A Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations” in London[ref] 1982, A Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations, Compiled by Jonathon Green, Topic: Ageing, Quote Page 89, Pan Books, London. (Verified with scans) [/ref] and “Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations” in New York,[ref] 1982, Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations, Compiled by Jonathon Green, Topic: Ageing, Quote Page 89, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref] Green included more than a dozen statements ascribed to Brendan Francis including the following item:

If the pleasures that an age offers are insipid, passionate souls will seek pain.

In 1983 columnist William Cole reviewed Green’s compilation in the pages of “The Saturday Review”. Cole criticized the quotations ascribed to Brendan Francis, and he revealed his belief regarding the creator’s true identity:[ref] 1983 March, The Saturday Review, Trade Winds: Gullible’s Travels by William Cole, Start Page 46, Quote Page 48, Column 3, Saturday Review Magazine Company, Columbia, Missouri. (Unz) [/ref]

The compiler has been taken in—there are sixteen weak quotes by “Brendan Francis”—a pseudonym of Edward F. Murphy, who puts together quotation books in this country and fabricates quotations when needed and inserts them in his books.

QI does not know how William Cole determined the individual behind the pseudonym.

In 1999 researcher Thomas Fuller tackled the mystery of the elusive Brendan Francis, and he also concluded that Francis was a pseudonym for Edward F. Murphy.[ref] Mailing List: Project Wombat, Subject: Brendan Francis, Author: Thomas Fuller, Date of mailing list message: April 10, 2022, Internal email date of message: April 26, 1999, Mailing list description: discussion list for exploring and answering difficult reference questions. (Accessed project-wombat.org on May 17, 2022) link [/ref]

Fuller wove together several threads of evidence. For example: Murphy’s book contained extensive source data for quotations, but no sources were given for the Francis quotations. There were no discoverable biographical details about Francis. The earliest known appearance of most Francis quotations was in the pages of Murphy’s book. The Francis quotations in Jonathon Green’s book were obtained from Murphy’s book. Lastly, Sherwin D. Smith stated that Murphy had placed his own quotations into his book under a pseudonym.

In conclusion, QI agrees with William Cole and Thomas Fuller that Brendan Francis was a pseudonym of Edward F. Murphy. Thus, the quotations attributed to Francis should be reassigned to Murphy. Evaluating the quality of these quotations is a subjective task, and readers should provide their own appraisals.

(Great thanks to Thomas Fuller whose message about this topic led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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