Success Is a Science; If You Have the Conditions, You Get the Result

Oscar Wilde? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I encountered the following bromide within a get-rich-quick self-help book:

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.

I was astonished to find that the words were attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. The websites listing the quotation were useless. None of them presented a solid citation, and skepticism is a natural response. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The ascription to Oscar Wide is correct.

The U.S. actress Marie Prescott agreed to take the leading role in Oscar Wilde’s play “Vera; or, The Nihilists”. “The New York Herald” in August 1883 published a promotional piece about the upcoming production of the play within the city. The newspaper reprinted portions of a letter Wilde sent to Prescott. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I think we must remember that no amount of advertising will make a bad play succeed, if it is not a good play well acted. I mean that one might patrol the streets of New York with a procession of vermilion caravans twice a day for six months to announce that ‘Vera’ was a great play, but if on the first night of its production the play was not a strong play, well acted, well mounted, all the advertisements in the world would avail nothing.

My name signed to a play will excite some interest in London and America. Your name as the heroine carries great weight with it. What we want to do is to have all the real conditions of success in our hands. Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result. Art is the mathematical result of the emotional desire for beauty.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Success Is a Science; If You Have the Conditions, You Get the Result

Notes:

  1. 1883 August 12, The New York Herald, The Theatre: Preparations for the Approaching Musical and Dramatic Season, (Letter from Oscar Wilde to Marie Prescott), Quote Page 10, Column 4, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)

Owe Your Banker £1,000 and You Are at His Mercy; Owe Him £1 Million and the Position Is Reversed

John Maynard Keynes? Paul Bareau? John Paul Getty? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The relationship between bankers and borrowers is symbiotic and occasionally counter-intuitive. Here is a pertinent adage:

If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem; if you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.

The prominent economist John Maynard Keynes apparently made a similar remark using pounds sterling instead of dollars. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI occurred in a memo that Keynes circulated to the British War Cabinet in 1945; however, the attribution was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

On such conditions, by cunning and kindness, we have persuaded the outside world to lend us upwards of the prodigious total of £3,000 million. The very size of these sterling debts is itself a protection. The old saying holds. Owe your banker £1,000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Owe Your Banker £1,000 and You Are at His Mercy; Owe Him £1 Million and the Position Is Reversed

Notes:

  1. 1979, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes: Volume 24: Activities 1944-1946: The Transition to Peace, Edited by Donald Moggridge, Section: Overseas Financial Policy in Stage III (Revised memorandum circulated to British War Cabinet on May 15, 1945), Start Page 256, Quote Page 258, Macmillan and Cambridge University Press, New York, For the Royal Economic Society. (Verified with hardcopy)

My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain? Frank Fiest? Will Rogers? Walter Armstrong? Herman Lindauer? William M. Lewis? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following musical instruments have in common: cornet, ukulele, saxophone, bagpipes, accordion, and banjo? Each of these instruments has a distinctive sound that is unpleasant to some listeners providing inspiration for a family of comical insults. Here are three typical barbs:

(1) A true gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, and doesn’t.

(2) A considerate person is one who could play a saxophone but doesn’t wish to.

(3) A man who can play the accordion but won’t, is a good neighbor.

The well-known wits Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have received credit for this kind of quip, but I have been unable to find any supporting citations. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in January 1917 within the pages of “The Atchison Weekly Globe” of Atchison, Kansas. A mellow brass instrument was disparaged by a joke ascribed to a local man named Frank Fiest. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Frank Fiest: “My idea of a gentleman is he who can play a cornet and won’t.” Well said, Mr. Fiest.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Notes:

  1. 1917 January 25, The Atchison Weekly Globe, Half Minute Interviews, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The idiom “to crawl out of the woodwork” refers to an unpleasant person or thing that quickly emerges from hiding or obscurity. The companion idiom “to crawl back into the woodwork” refers to the person or thing disappearing.

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary has citations beginning in 1964, but I think the famous wit Dorothy Parker helped to popularize the latter expression starting in the 1930s. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1933 the influential critic Alexander Woollcott published a profile of Dorothy Parker titled “Our Mrs. Parker” in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine. He described a “dreadful week-end” visiting the country home of a host named Nellie. The group included bohemians who would “bathe infrequently, if ever”. Dorothy Parker was a fellow guest, and Woollcott asked for her opinion of the unwelcome companions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I could not help wondering how Nellie managed to round them up, and where they might be found at other times. Mrs. Parker looked at them pensively. “I think,” she whispered, “that they crawl back into the woodwork.”

Parker’s witticism was widely distributed, and QI conjectures that the modern idioms emerged, in part, because of her remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Notes:

  1. 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Quote Page 90, Column 1, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; Thanks to local and remote librarians)

Take the First Step in Faith. You Don’t Have To See the Whole Staircase, Just Take the First Step

Martin Luther King Jr.? Marian Wright Edelman? George Sweeting? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has received credit for a stimulating remark about faith. Here are two versions:

(1) Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

(2) Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Martin Luther King Jr. died in 1968. The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1986. The newspaper interviewed Marian Wright Edelman who was the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman knew King and heard him deliver multiple speeches. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I was impressed by his leadership, but I think I was impressed even more by the fact that he was an adult and he was not afraid to speak about his uncertainties, his fears,” she said.

“He introduced me to the idea of taking one step, even if you can’t see the whole stairway when you start. I think because of that, I have a much greater capacity to accept failure and move on.”

The excerpt above did not include a direct quotation from King. In addition, it used the word “stairway” instead of “staircase”. The 1991 and 1999 citations presented further below which are also based on Edelman’s memory both contain direct quotations.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Take the First Step in Faith. You Don’t Have To See the Whole Staircase, Just Take the First Step

Notes:

  1. 1986 March 30, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Section: Living – Panorama – Part 3, Fighting for kids is a full-time job by Deena Mirow (Staff Writer), Quote Page 21, Column 2 thru 4, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Sold His Soul for a Pot of Message

Critic: Max Beerbohm? G. K. Chesterton? Hugh Walpole? C. L. Edson? Piccolo? Maurice Francis Egan? John Cournos? Sara Henderson Hay? Theodore Sturgeon? Anonymous?

Person Being Criticized: H. G. Wells? John Galsworthy? William Lafayette Strong? Douglas Goldring? Margaret Halsey?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Bible tells the story of Esau who made a foolishly impulsive decision when he was hungry. His younger brother, Jacob, offered Esau a dish of lentils in exchange for his birthright, and Esau accepted. The phrase “mess of pottage” is used to describe the dish in the Geneva Bible of 1560 and other editions. 1 The following idiom refers to giving up something of great value or importance in return for something of little value:

Sell your birthright for a mess of pottage.

This statement inspired a spoonerism:

Sell your birthright for a pot of message.

This style of wordplay has been used in literary criticism. For example, barbs of the following type have been aimed at writers who employed crudely didactic themes and plots:

  • H. G. Wells sold his soul for a pot of message.
  • John Galsworthy sold his artistic birthright for a pot of message.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The phrase “pot of message” was circulating in the 1800s as discussed further below. The first evidence located by QI of the wordplay employed in the criticism of a significant literary figure occurred by 1919 in “The Sun” newspaper of New York. Novelist and lecturer Hugh Walpole aimed a jibe at science fiction author and social activist H. G. Wells; however, the attribution was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

It is this passionate longing for a less muddled world that has reduced the Wells of the most recent period, the Wells who has “sold his soul for a pot of message,” as some one put it the other day. The war only increased and stimulated the propagandist energy that had always been there.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sold His Soul for a Pot of Message

Notes:

  1. 2005 (2006 online Version), The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Second Edition), Entry: mess of pottage, Oxford University Press. (Oxford Reference Online; accessed April 15, 2019)
  2. 1919 December 28, The Sun, Section: Books and the Book World of The Sun, On Wells–Early, Mediaeval and Modern: A London Letter from Hugh Walpole in America, Quote Page 7, Column 3 and 4, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The Secret of Business Is To Know Something That No One Else Knows

Aristotle Onassis? Lester David? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Aristotle Onassis became one of the wealthiest people in the word as he systematically accumulated the vessels of a massive private shipping fleet. He apparently shared the following nugget of wisdom about his triumphs:

The secret of business is to know something that no one else knows.

A slightly different version of this quotation uses the word “nobody” instead of “no one”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1964 within the Sunday newspaper supplement “This Week” which published an article by Lester David titled “How money-minded are you?”. David included a brief discussion of Aristotle Onassis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Of course, other factors in addition to attitudes about money play a major and decisive role in the struggle to acquire wealth. One of the most important was summed up by Aristotle Onassis, whose huge fortune has been estimated at close to a billion dollars. “The secret of business,” he said, “is to know something that no one else knows.”

According to the article, as a teenager Onassis achieved a valuable business insight. Tobacco in Argentina was overpriced because it was being imported from the U.S. and Cuba. Onassis was able to create a tobacco importing business with direct access to the superior prices and products of the Middle East, and this was the beginning of his business empire.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Secret of Business Is To Know Something That No One Else Knows

Notes:

  1. 1964 May 10, The Kansas City Star, Section: This Week Magazine, How money-minded are you? by Lester David, Start Page 4, Quote Page 8, Kansas City, Missouri. (NewsBank Access World News)

The Very First Thing They Do Is Matriculate Together

Ralph M. Hiner? Tammany Hall politician? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to a legislative legend, a naïve politician with a limited vocabulary wished to provide funding for a state college; however, an adversary wanted to spend the money on a different project. The verb “matriculate” means to enroll at a college or university, but this definition was not properly grasped by the politician. Thus, the adversary decided to cleverly besmirch the college using sexual innuendo. Here are two examples:

  • Students matriculate in broad daylight.
  • Boys and girls matriculate together.

The scandalized politician repudiated the college. Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this tale located by QI appeared in “The Charleston Daily Mail” of Charleston, West Virginia in 1933. The anecdote was presented by a West Virginian politician Ralph M. Hiner. He described an unnamed farmer with little experience who was elected to the New York State Senate and wished to pass a bill providing $500,000 to an educational institution. His opponents were members of the Tammany Hall political machine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Well, senator,” the other tried to confuse him, “don’t you know they have a curriculum at that school?”

“No, I didn’t know it.”

“And did you know that they have two semesters?”

“No, but I don’t care. I want my bill passed.”

“Senator” the pleader continued, almost desperate, “do you know that boys and girls matriculate at that school?”

“Well, I won’t stand for that!” the senator stormed “Give me my bill.” Whereupon he tore it to bits.

Brilliant researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake has published an entertaining piece titled “Dirty Politics: Smathers, Pepper, and Quasi Malediction in American Political Folklore” presenting several humorous examples of phrases that have reportedly been used to attack politicians and their relatives, e.g., “a shameless extrovert”, “a thespian in Greenwich Village” and “a sexagenarian”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Very First Thing They Do Is Matriculate Together

Notes:

  1. 1933 February 26, The Charleston Daily Mail, As Told In Our Town, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Charleston, West Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

Can’t Somebody Bring Me a One-Handed Economist?

Harry Truman? David Boyd Chase? Ben Turner? Charles E. Wilson? Charles Frederick Carter? Edwin C. Johnson? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Economists, lawyers, scientists, and other experts often provide tentative and inconclusive advice to clients. These wily advisers avoid definitive statements and employ locutions such as: on the one hand, but on the other hand. Here are four comical phrases describing the decisive advisers desired by clients:

  • One-handed economist
  • One-armed lawyer
  • One-armed tax man
  • An expert with only one hand

U.S. President Harry Truman apparently wished for a one-handed economist. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence of this family of quips known to QI appeared in 1936 within an editorial published in multiple Scripps-Howard newspapers, e.g., “The Evansville Press” of Indiana 1 and “The Knoxville News-Sentinel” of Tennessee. 2 The editorial criticized the political platform of the Republican party because it embraced two stances concerning soil conservation that were contradictory. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

One the one hand, they condemn the New Deal soil conservation farm program because it tends “to promote scarcity and to limit by coercive methods the farmer’s control over his own farm,” but on the other hand they favor “protection and restoration of the land resources, designed to bring about such a balance between soil-building and soil-depleting crops as will permanently insure productivity.”

Strictly on a reading of the piece it becomes obvious that what the Republicans need is a one-armed platform writer.

Harry Truman was the President between 1945 and 1953; hence, this type of quip was circulating while he was in office; however, QI and other researchers have not yet found solidly-dated contemporary evidence indicating that Truman employed the joke. On the other hand, a 1974 citation and later testimony did attribute the two phrases “one-handed economist” and “one-armed economist” to Truman. See details further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Can’t Somebody Bring Me a One-Handed Economist?

Notes:

  1. 1936 June 12, The Evansville Press, Landon—and the Platform, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Evansville, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1936 June 12, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Landon and the Platform (An Editorial), Quote Page 6, Column 3, Knoxville, Tennessee. (GenealogyBank)

I Ring It Whenever I Want an Hour of Uninterrupted Privacy

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A patient in a modern hospital room can push a button to call for the help of a nurse; however, on occasion, the response time is long because nurses have many medical tasks to perform. The famous wit Dorothy Parker created a joke on this topic. She claimed that pushing the button enabled her to experience an extended interval of privacy. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1933 article by prominent critic Alexander Woollcott in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine. Woollcott described visiting Dorothy Parker who was being treated in a hospital. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tiptoeing now down the hospital corridor, I found her hard at work. Because of posterity and her creditors, I was loath to intrude, but she, being entranced at any interruption, greeted me from her cot of pain, waved me to a chair, offered me a cigaret and rang a bell. I wondered if this could possibly be for drinks. “No,” she said sadly, “It is supposed to fetch the night nurse, so I ring it whenever I want an hour of uninterrupted privacy.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Ring It Whenever I Want an Hour of Uninterrupted Privacy

Notes:

  1. 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Start Page 70, Quote Page 88, Column 3, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; thanks to local and remote librarians)