To Die for an Idea Is To Place a Very High Price Upon Conjecture

Anatole France? François Rabelais? Michel de Montaigne? Lewis Piaget Shanks? Will Durant? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The French Nobel laureate Anatole France was skeptical of martyrdom. Here are three versions of a statement attributed to him:

  • To die for an idea is to set a pretty high value on conjectures.
  • To die for an idea is to put a very high value on one’s opinions.
  • To die for an idea is to set a rather high price upon guesswork.

Would you please help me to find the original statement in French?

Quote Investigator: In April 1889 Anatole France published a piece in “Le Temps” (“The Times”) newspaper of Paris in which he discussed a book about François Rabelais. France’s essay praised the controversial 16th century satirical writer for maintaining integrity while avoiding execution. The following is a statement from the essay together with one possible translation into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . mourir pour une idée, c’est mettre à bien haut prix des conjectures.

. . . to die for an idea is to place a very high price on conjectures.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading To Die for an Idea Is To Place a Very High Price Upon Conjecture

Notes:

  1. 1889 Avril (April) 21, Le Temps (The Times), La Vie Littéraire: Rabelais by Anatole France, (Discussion of Paul Stapfer’s book “Rabelais, sa personne, son génie, son oeuvre”), Quote Page 2 (Not paginated), Column 3, Paris, France. (BNF Gallica)

If I Can Make About Five Good Scenes and Not Annoy the Audience, It’s an Awfully Good Picture

Howard Hawks? Martin Kasindorf? Alejandro Jodorowsky? Gene Siskel? Roger Ebert? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Howard Hawks was a leading director during the Golden Age of Hollywood. His oeuvre included “Scarface”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “The Big Sleep”, and “His Girl Friday”. He was never pretentious, and he followed a pragmatic strategy for creating his hugely successful motion pictures.

Hawks stated that he attempted to film three to five great scenes and no annoying or inept scenes. Accomplishing this goal generated an excellent movie. Would you please help me to find the precise phrasing Hawks used to express this thought together with an exact citation?

Quote Investigator: In November 1970 Howard Hawks attended the Chicago Film Festival, and he participated in a discussion with the audience. The interchange was transcribed and edited by Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington, and it appeared in the 1972 book “Focus On Howard Hawks”.

The comment from Hawks presented below referenced the movie star John Wayne. The pair had created landmark movies such as “Rio Bravo” and “Red River”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Question: Is there any film which stands out as being particularly satisfying to you?

Answer: … I think probably the last picture that worked out well is your favorite for a while, and then you start thinking about it and you go back a little further. Not that you’re trying to make every scene a great scene, but you try not to annoy the audience. If I can make about five good scenes and not annoy the audience, it’s an awfully good picture. I told John Wayne when we started to work together, “Duke, if you can make two good scenes and not annoy the audience for the rest of the film, you’ll be a star.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If I Can Make About Five Good Scenes and Not Annoy the Audience, It’s an Awfully Good Picture

Notes:

  1. 1972, Focus On Howard Hawks, Edited by Joseph McBride, Series: Film Focus, Chapter: A Discussion with the Audience of the 1970 Chicago Film Festival, (Description: Discussion transcribed and edited by Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington; previously published as “Do I Get to Play the Drunk This Time?: An Encounter with Howard Hawks,” in Sight and Sound, Spring 1971), Start Page 14, Quote Page 18, A Spectrum Book: Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)

True Peace Is Not Merely the Absence of Tension; It Is the Presence of Justice

Martin Luther King? Elizabeth Tipton Derieux? Alton Hawkins? United Presbyterian Church? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A political activist once stated something like the following: Peace is more than the absence of conflict and tension. Genuine peace requires the presence of justice. This notion has been attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: A match for this expression appeared in the 1964 collection “A Martin Luther King Treasury” within a chapter titled “Montgomery Before the Protest”. King described a conversation during which he employed the following line circa 1954-1955. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading True Peace Is Not Merely the Absence of Tension; It Is the Presence of Justice

Notes:

  1. 1964, A Martin Luther King Treasury by Martin Luther King Jr., Chapter 2: Montgomery Before the Protest, Quote Page 30, Published Educational Heritage, Yonkers, New York. (Verified on paper)

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

Buckaroo Banzai? Peter Weller? Earl Mac Rauch? Thomas à Kempis? W. H. Hutchings? Jim Russell? Jacqueline? C. Gordon Furbish? Jon Kabat-Zinn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following saying is a profound guideline for mindfulness meditation; alternatively, it is a fun absurdist joke. Here are three versions:

  • Wherever you go, there you are.
  • No matter where you go, there you are.
  • Wherever you go, you will always find yourself.

The 1984 movie “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” included this line, but I think this adage was already in circulation. Would you please explore this topic.

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in 1955 within the “Hazleton Collegian” periodical published by students attending Pennsylvania State University. A section titled “Oddities” printed humorous items from the community. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Jim Russell wants to know why it is that no matter where you go, there you are.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

Notes:

  1. 1955 March 4, Hazleton Collegian, Volume 17, Number 21, Humor: Oddities, Quote Page 4, The Pennsylvania State University Center, Highacres Hazleton, Pennsylvania. (Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive at panewsarchive.psu.edu; accessed November 22, 2020) link

I Quite Agree With You, But Who Are We Two Against So Many?

George Bernard Shaw? Oscar Wilde? Clarence Rook? Alexander Woollcott? Hesketh Pearson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A playwright feared that his upcoming work was about to flop at the box office. After the surprisingly successful inaugural performance the bewildered playwright appeared on stage. Amongst the resounding cheers there was a barely audible hiss. The playwright addressed the lone detractor:

I quite agree with you, but what can we two do against a whole houseful of the opposite opinion?

George Bernard Shaw has received credit for this line. Would you please explore this popular anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the Chicago, Illinois periodical “The Chap-Book” in November 1896. The Latin phrase “popularis aura” means “popular favor”. Boldface has been added to excerpts by QI: 1

I well remember how at the first night of “Arms and the Man” at the Avenue Theatre, after the audience had been successively puzzled, tickled and delighted, Shaw stepped before the curtain to face the applause. He was tremulous, unnerved, speechless. He looked as though he had expected cabbage stalks, and was disappointed. Suddenly a man in the Gallery began to hoot.

Shaw was himself again at once. He opened his lips, and amid the resulting silence he said, looking at the solitary malcontent. “I quite agree with my friend in the Gallery — but what are two against so many?” A single breath of opposition braced his energies. For Shaw is like the kite, and can rise only when the popularis aura is against him.

British journalist Clarence Rook penned the passage above, and apparently he directly witnessed Shaw deliver the line. The comedy “Arms and the Man” was first staged in April 1894 in London. Thus, Rook’s description appeared two years after the event. An earlier citation may exist, but QI has not yet uncovered it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Quite Agree With You, But Who Are We Two Against So Many?

Notes:

  1. 1896 November 1, The Chap-Book Semi-Monthly, Volume 5, Number 12, George Bernard Shaw by Clarence Rook, Start Page 529, Quote Page 539 and 540, Herbert S. Stone & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

If You Are Not at the Table Then You’re Probably on the Menu

Elizabeth Warren? Ann Richards? Julia Louis-Dreyfus? Cecile Richards? Pat Rusk? David Horowitz? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If one wishes to influence a decision then one must be present at the negotiation table. If one is absent then an unfavorable decision is likely. Metaphorically, one’s rights and interests will be consumed by the other participants at the table. This notion has been expressed as follows:

If you aren’t at the table then you’re on the menu.

Politicians Ann Richards and Elizabeth Warren have each received credit for this remark . Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Many variants of this adage have evolved over time. Here is chronological sampling:

1993 Sept: At the Table or on the Menu?
2002 Jul: If you are not at the table, then you could be on the menu
2003 Mar: Instead of being on the menu, we have a seat at the table
2003 Jun: You’re either at the table, or you’re on the menu
2004 Apr: If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu

The first citation containing a strong match was recorded in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” compiled by researchers Charles C. Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro. Boldface has been added to excerpts by QI: 1

1993 “Lebanon — At the Table or on the Menu?” Middle East Insight 10, no. 6 (Sep.– Oct.) 5 (commentary on a pending Syria-Israel accord).

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Are Not at the Table Then You’re Probably on the Menu

Notes:

  1. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 248, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Machines Will Be Capable, Within Twenty Years, of Doing Any Work That a Man Can Do

Herbert A. Simon? Hubert L. Dreyfus? Raymond Kurzweil? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has achieved several remarkable triumphs in recent years. For example, in 2017 the number one ranked Go player in the world was beaten by a computer program called AlphaGo.

Yet, the progress of AI has been much slower than its top researchers predicted. The Nobel-prize winning economist Herbert A. Simon was an influential pioneer in the exploration of AI. Apparently, in the 1960s Simon stated that computers would be capable of doing any tasks that humans could perform within twenty years. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1960 Herbert A. Simon published “The New Science of Management Decision”, and he did assert that computer systems would achieve extraordinarily broad capabilities within two decades, i.e., by 1980. Interestingly, he did not believe that these systems would displace all human labor because computers at that time were very expensive: 1

Technologically, as I have argued earlier, machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work that a man can do. Economically, men will retain their greatest comparative advantage in jobs that require flexible manipulation of those parts of the environment that are relatively rough—some forms of manual work, control of some kinds of machinery (e.g., operating earth-moving equipment), some kinds of nonprogrammed problem solving, and some kinds of service activities where face-to-face human interaction is of the essence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Machines Will Be Capable, Within Twenty Years, of Doing Any Work That a Man Can Do

Notes:

  1. 1960, The New Science of Management Decision by Herbert A. Simon (Professor of Administration, Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie Institute of Technology), Chapter: Organizational Design: Man-Machine Systems for Decision Making, Lecture III, Date: April 7, 1960, Quote Page 38, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)

One Man’s Poetry Is Another Man’s Poison

Oscar Wilde? Titus Lucretius Carus? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: One person may enjoy a food or activity that another person finds repellent. A well-known adage expresses this notion:

One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

The following funny variant has been attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde:

One man’s poetry is another man’s poison.

Did Wilde really craft this statement? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1895 the trial of The Crown versus Oscar Wilde occurred in London. Wilde was asked to comment on some verses written by his friend and companion Lord Alfred Douglas. In the following passage “Mr. Gill” referred to prosecutor Charles Gill, and “Witness” referred to Oscar Wilde. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Gill. — “You can, perhaps, understand that such verses as these would not be acceptable to the reader with an ordinarily balanced mind?”

Witness. — “I am not prepared to say. It appears to me to be a question of taste, temperament and individuality. I should say that one man’s poetry is another man’s poison!” (Loud laughter.)

The text above is from “The Trial of Oscar Wilde: From the Shorthand Reports” privately published in 1906 as a limited edition. Hence, this is not an official transcript, but it provides substantive evidence that Wilde made the remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading One Man’s Poetry Is Another Man’s Poison

Notes:

  1. 1906, The Trial of Oscar Wilde: From the Shorthand Reports, Limited edition number 184 of 550, Preface signed by C. G., Quote Page 58, Privately Printed, Paris, France. (HathiTrust Full View) link

If They Turn Their Backs To the Fire, and Get Scorched in the Rear, They’ll Find They Have Got To ‘Sit’ on the ‘Blister’!

Abraham Lincoln? Francis Bicknell Carpenter? Carl Sandburg? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Apparently Abraham Lincoln employed a vividly powerful metaphor when discussing the people’s responsibility during an election. The precise phrasing is uncertain. Here is one version:

If the people turn their backs to a fire they will burn their behinds, and they will just have to sit on their blisters.

Would you please help me to find the correct phrasing and a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, and the earliest match known to QI appeared in an 1866 book of reminiscences by U.S. painter Francis Bicknell Carpenter titled “Six Months at The White House with Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Picture”.

Carpenter wished to paint a picture commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation, and he met with Lincoln about the project in February 1864. He was given space for a studio within the White House, and he worked on the painting until it was completed for viewing in July 1864.

Carpenter’s book contained many anecdotes about Lincoln. One of Carpenter’s unnamed friends was the private secretary of a cabinet minister. In August 1864 the friend was tasked with presenting to Lincoln an assessment of the upcoming election. Unfortunately, the prospects seemed gloomy. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

My friend said that he found Mr. Lincoln alone, looking more than usually careworn and sad. Upon hearing the statement, he walked two or three times across the floor in silence. Returning, he said with grim earnestness of tone and manner: “Well, I cannot run the political machine; I have enough on my hands without that. It is the people’s business, — the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire, and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to ‘sit’ on the ‘blister ’!”

This citation is substantive, but the accuracy of this quotation is dependent on the veracity and the memory of Carpenter and his friend. The figurative framework of fire and blisters has a long history as shown below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If They Turn Their Backs To the Fire, and Get Scorched in the Rear, They’ll Find They Have Got To ‘Sit’ on the ‘Blister’!

Notes:

  1. 1866, Six Months at The White House with Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Picture by F. B. Carpenter (Francis Bicknell Carpenter), Chapter 68, Quote Page 275, Hurd and Houghton, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Don’t Look Back. Something Might Be Gaining On You

Satchel Paige? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous baseball player Satchel Paige once offered advice about staying young at heart. Here are three versions:

  • Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
  • Don’t look back. Somebody may be gaining on you.
  • Never look back. You might see someone overtaking you.

Would you please help me to find the correct phrasing and an accurate citation?

Quote Investigator: In June 1953 “Collier’s” magazine published a profile of Leroy Satchel Paige. A sidebar listed six quotations from Paige under the title “How to Stay Young” including the following 3 items: 1

If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Look Back. Something Might Be Gaining On You

Notes:

  1. 1953 June 13, Collier’s, “Time Ain’t Gonna Mess with Me” (Concluding The Fabulous Satchel Paige) by Richard Donovan, How to Stay Young (Six quotations displayed in a sidebar box), Start Page 54, Quote Page 55, The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz)