The Possible’s Slow Fuse Is Lit By the Imagination!

Emily Dickinson? Susan Gilbert Dickinson? Martha Dickinson Bianchi? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The ability to envision something novel and appealing is vital to the formulation and accomplishment of worthwhile goals. A robust imagination initiates the process.

The poet Emily Dickinson employed the apt metaphor of lighting a fuse to express this notion. Would you please help to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Emily Dickinson lived between 1830 and 1886. She was a prolific correspondent, and she sent hundreds of letters to her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert Dickinson who was a beloved friend and supporter.

Martha Dickinson Bianchi was Susan’s daughter and Emily’s niece. In 1914 she published “The Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime”, a posthumous collection of works by Emily Dickinson based on manuscripts held by Martha’s family. Each poem was assigned a number, and the quotation appeared in the four-line item numbered XXVII. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The gleam of an heroic act,
Such strange illumination —
The Possible’s slow fuse is lit
By the Imagination!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Possible’s Slow Fuse Is Lit By the Imagination!

Notes:

  1. 1915 (1914 Copyright), The Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime by Emily Dickinson, Poem: XXVII, Quote Page 29, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Do Not Take Life Quite So Seriously—You Surely Will Never Get Out of It Alive

Elbert Hubbard? Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle? William J. Crawford? Walt Kelly? Pogo? Pierre Daninos? Alphonse Allais? Julien Green?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a trenchant family of fatalistic sayings concerning the solemnity of life. Here are four examples:

  • Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out of it alive.
  • You mustn’t take life too seriously; no one makes it out alive.
  • Don’t take life so seriously, you’ll never get out alive.
  • Why take life so seriously? It’s not permanent.

This notion has been attributed to U.S. aphorist Elbert Hubbard and French essayist and scholar Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. Would you please explore the provenance of this set of expressions?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the December 1900 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” within an essay by Elbert Hubbard who was the editor of the publication. The text began with a reference to the spiritual dimension of life. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Dear Playmate in the Kindergarten of God: Please do not take life quite so seriously—you surely will never get out of it alive. And as for your buying and selling, your churches and banks, your newspapers and books, they are really at the last of no more importance than the child’s paper houses, red and blue wafers, and funny scissors things.

Why you grown-ups! all your possessions are only just to keep you out of mischief, until Death, the good old nurse, comes and rocks you to sleep. Am I not right?

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle died in 1757, and he received credit for this saying by the 1970s which is rather late. QI has not yet found substantive support for this attribution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Do Not Take Life Quite So Seriously—You Surely Will Never Get Out of It Alive

Notes:

  1. 1900 December, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Volume 12, Number 1, Editor Elbert Hubbard, Heart to Heart Talks with Philistines by the Pastor of His Flock, Dear Playmate in the Kindergarten of God, Start Page 24, Quote Page 24, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

A Man Convinced Against His Will, Is of the Same Opinion Still

Samuel Butler? John Pope? T.B.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of sayings about the difficulty of compelling obedience. Here are three instances:

A man convinced against his will,
Is of the same opinion still.

Those convinced against their will,
Are of the same opinion still.

He that complies against his will,
Is of his own opinion still.

The meanings of the two words “convinced” and “complies” are dissimilar; hence, the implications of these sayings are distinct. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The first member of this family to enter circulation employed the word “complies”. The saying appeared in the long mock-heroic work “Hudibras” by the seventeenth-century English poet Samuel Butler. The three parts of this work were combined into a single edition published in 1684. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

He that complies against his Will,
Is of his own Opinion still;
Which he may adhere to, yet disown,
For Reasons to himself best known

A separate article about the above saying is available here.

This article will concentrate on the variants of this couplet containing the word “convinced”. For example, in 1786 “The Belfast Mercury” of Belfast, Northern Ireland published a letter from T. B. to the editor containing the following instance: 2

… the saying of the satirical poet,
“A man convinced against his will,
Is of the same opinion still.”

QI believes that the letter writer was misremembering the couplet from Samuel Butler’s “Hudibras”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Convinced Against His Will, Is of the Same Opinion Still

Notes:

  1. 1684, Hudibras in Three Parts (by Samuel Butler), Part 3, Canto III, Quote Page 202, Printed and Sold by W. Rogers, London. (Early English Books Online 2; ProQuest)
  2. 1786 April 13, The Belfast Mercury or Freeman’s Chronicle, Letter to the Conductor of the Belfast Mercury, Letter from: T. B. of Down, Letter date April 11, 1786, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland. (Newspapers_com)

He That Complies Against His Will, Is of His Own Opinion Still

Samuel Butler? Frances Burney? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Force can be used to compel a person to exhibit a specific behavior, but it is much more difficult to change the mind of a person. Compliance does not denote mental submission.
The 17th-century poet Samuel Butler composed a couplet expressing this notion. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Samuel Butler lived between 1613 and 1680. His most famous work was a long satirical poem titled “Hudibras”. The three parts of the poem were combined into a single edition published in 1684. The quotation appeared in third part within canto three. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

He that complies against his Will,
Is of his own Opinion still;
Which he may adhere to, yet disown,
For Reasons to himself best known

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He That Complies Against His Will, Is of His Own Opinion Still

Notes:

  1. 1684, Hudibras in Three Parts (by Samuel Butler), Part 3, Canto III, Quote Page 202, Printed and Sold by W. Rogers, London. (Early English Books Online 2; ProQuest)

Government Can Easily Exist Without Law, But Law Cannot Exist Without Government

Bertrand Russell? Leo Rosten? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The relationship between government and law can be deftly summarized with two contrasting statements:

  • Government can exist without law(s).
  • Law(s) cannot exist without government.

These dual notions have been attributed to the famous British mathematician and social critic Bertrand Russell. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1950 Bertrand Russell published a collection titled “Unpopular Essays”. The quotation appeared in the essay “Ideas That Have Helped Mankind”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Government can easily exist without law, but law cannot exist without government—a fact which was forgotten by those who framed the League of Nations and the Kellogg Pact. Government may be defined as a concentration of the collective forces of a community in a certain organization which, in virtue of this concentration, is able to control individual citizens and to resist pressure from foreign states.

The elegance of the statement stems from the repetition of the key words “government” and “law” in transposed order. Variant statements attributed to Russell have entered circulation over time. The word “law” is sometimes replaced by “laws”. This replacement occurs for either one or both instances of “law”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Government Can Easily Exist Without Law, But Law Cannot Exist Without Government

Notes:

  1. 1950, Unpopular Essays by Bertrand Russell, Chapter 9: Ideas That Have Helped Mankind, Start Page 124, Quote Page 140, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)

Milli-Helen: The Quantity of Beauty Required To Launch Exactly One Ship

Isaac Asimov? W. A. H. Rushton? R. C. Winton? Edgar J. Westbury? Christopher Marlowe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Standards of beauty are notoriously subjective and variable. Different qualities are prized over time, and distinct cultures value divergent attributes.

In the domain of Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was the most beautiful woman in the world. English playwright Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy “Doctor Faustus” contains the following lines about her:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium

An aspiring humorist proposed the “Helen” as a measure of female pulchritude. Thus, the “milli-Helen” (one thousandth of a “Helen”) was the amount of beauty sufficient to launch one ship. The hyphen is sometimes omitted. This quip has been attributed to science fiction author Isaac Asimov and physiologist W. A. H. Rushton. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence known to QI appeared in the London humor magazine “Punch” in 1954. The quip was attributed to an unnamed “professor of natural philosophy”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Scientists and aesthetes alike have heard with interest that the “unit of absolute beauty” has been invented by a professor of natural philosophy, who calls it a Helen and explains that it is divisible into millihelens. It is hoped that the millihelen may in time be interpreted in terms of power, when it should prove handy for launching a single ship.

In 1992 science fiction luminary Isaac Asimov made the interesting claim that he invented the term “millihelen” during a discussion with a friend in the early 1940s. See the 1992 citation given further below. QI has not yet located substantive support for this claim.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Milli-Helen: The Quantity of Beauty Required To Launch Exactly One Ship

Notes:

  1. 1954 June 23, Punch or The London Charivari, Volume 226, Issue Number 5936, Page Title: Punch: Charivaria, Quote Page 737, Column 3, Published at the Office of Punch, London, England. (Gale Cengage “Punch” Historical Archive)

No Plan Survives First Contact With the Enemy

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder? Carl von Clausewitz? Dwight D. Eisenhower? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Anybody who is attempting to accomplish a major project must be flexible. Planning is important, but adaptability is essential. Here are two versions of a pertinent adage from the domain of warfare and competition:

  • No plan survives contact with the enemy.
  • No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

This saying has been attributed to Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder and Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1871 Helmuth von Moltke wrote an essay about military strategy that included a lengthy statement that was essentially equivalent to the concise adage. Here is an excerpt in German followed by an English translation. Boldface added to by QI: 1

Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus. Nur der Laie glaubt in dem Verlauf eines Feldzuges die konsequente Durchführung eines im voraus gefaßten in allen Einzelheiten überlegten und bis ans Ende festgehaltenen, ursprünglichen Gedankens zu erblicken.

No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces. Only the layman believes that in the course of a campaign he sees the consistent implementation of an original thought that has been considered in advance in every detail and retained to the end.

Over time Moltke’s statement was condensed to yield the currently popular adages.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Plan Survives First Contact With the Enemy

Notes:

  1. 1900, Moltkes Militärische Werke: II. Die Thätigkeit als Chef des Generalstabes der Armee im Frieden. (Moltke’s Military Works: II. Activity as Chief of the Army General Staff in Peacetime) Zweiter Theil (Second Part), Aufsatz vom Jahre 1871 Ueber Strategie (Article from 1871 on strategy), Start Page 287, Quote Page 291, Publisher: Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, Berlin, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link

The Things of Nature Do Not Really Belong To Us. We Should Leave Them To Our Children As We Have Received Them

Oscar Wilde? Lloyd Lewis? Henry Justin Smith? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Oscar Wilde apparently expressed some forward thinking ideas about the environment. He believed that the natural world should be preserved so that it can be conveyed to our children in the condition it was received. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the 1936 book “Oscar Wilde Discovers America” by Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith. The quotation appeared in a section of the book about Wilde’s visit to Canada in 1882. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

At Ottawa, where he spoke next, Wilde realized how completely Canada had followed America into industrialism and business . . . And in that very April he had read complaints of the American Forestry Congress, which was organizing in Cincinnati against the rapid waste of forests.

As a Socialist, the poet opposed such exploitation of natural resources. “The things of nature do not really belong to us,” he said; “we should leave them to our children as we have received them.”

How this philosophy, if put into action, would have delayed the settlement of the West, was a question he did not face.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Things of Nature Do Not Really Belong To Us. We Should Leave Them To Our Children As We Have Received Them

Notes:

  1. 1936, Oscar Wilde Discovers America [1882] by Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith, Book 4: Eastward, Southward, Northward, Chapter 2: Adds a New Horror To Death, Quote Page 350, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Co-Authoring a Book Is Like Three People Getting Together To Have a Baby

Evelyn Waugh? Agatha Christie? Hilary St. George Saunders? Leonard Lyons? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Collaborating on a complex project like writing a novel is impossible for many people. English writer Evelyn Waugh said something like the following:

Coauthoring a book is like three people getting together to have a baby.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In April 1943 the prominent gossip columnist Leonard Lyons wrote about British novelist Evelyn Waugh and British historian Hilary St. George Saunders. Waugh was surprised to learn that Saunders was able to work together with another writer to successfully coauthor a book. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Of Saunders’ other writings, Waugh said: “But he collaborates. I never can understand how two men can write a book together. To me, that’s like three people getting together to have a baby.”

In the age of surrogate mothers and in vitro fertilization the notion of three (or more) people collaborating to produce a child is no longer outlandish.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Co-Authoring a Book Is Like Three People Getting Together To Have a Baby

Notes:

  1. 1943 April 7, The Washington Post, Times Square Tattle by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page B6, Column 4, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)

When First We Fall in Love, We Feel That We Know All There Is To Know About Life, and Perhaps We Are Right

Mignon McLaughlin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: First love is exhilarating. Infatuated lovers feel like they have acquired esoteric knowledge of the universe. This might even be true. The witty journalist Mignon McLaughlin made this point using a different phrasing. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1963 McLaughlin published “The Neurotic’s Notebook” which included the following item. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

When first we fall in love, we feel that we know all there is to know about life, and perhaps we are right.

McLaughlin shared other insights about love and desire in her book: 2

Love, like money, is offered most freely to those in least need of it.

When desire has been satisfied, we can begin to think seriously about love.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When First We Fall in Love, We Feel That We Know All There Is To Know About Life, and Perhaps We Are Right

Notes:

  1. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 1: Love and Marriage, Quote Page 13, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 1: Love and Marriage, Quote Page 9 and 13, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)