Don’t Aim for Success If You Want It. Just Do What You Love Doing, and It Will Come Naturally

Robert Frost? David Frost? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While listening to a TEDx talk I heard an interesting motivational quotation attributed to the popular American poet Robert Frost:

Don’t aim for success if that’s what you want. Do what you love and believe in, and it will follow.

I doubt that the versifier of rural life said this, and I have been unable to locate a citation. Would you please help trace this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Robert Frost employed this saying. The linkage was probably caused by confusion with another person whose last name was Frost.

In 1985 a columnist in the “Courier-Post” of Camden, New Jersey published a multiple-choice quiz asking readers to identify the creators of various quotations. The answer section stated that television host and journalist David Frost authored the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I think success is a crappy, trendy word. Don’t aim for success if you want it. Just do what you love doing and it will come naturally.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Aim for Success If You Want It. Just Do What You Love Doing, and It Will Come Naturally

Notes:

  1. 1985 October 2, Courier-Post, Out of the mouths of celebrities: Name the famous folks who’ve made some infamous statements by Jerry Holderman (Special to the Courier-Post), Quote Page 11D, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

A Government of Wall Street, for Wall Street, by Wall Street

Creator: Mary Elizabeth Lease, suffrage advocate, populist, author, and orator

Context: Long before the Occupy Wall Street movement the metonymic location of the stock market has been treated with hostility. In 1891 the political activist Mary Elizabeth Lease delivered a speech containing words reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which she transformed into a condemnation of financial power: 1

Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, for the people, by the people, but a government of Wall Street, for Wall Street, by Wall Street. The great common people of the country are slaves, and monopoly is the master. The west and south are bound and prostrate before the manufacturing east. Money rules and our vice-president is a London banker.

Image Notes: Bull and bear representing the Wall Street market from geralt at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1891 March 31, State Journal (The Topeka State Journal), Her Strange Power, Quote Page 5, Column 2, Topeka, Kansas. (“street” was not capitalized in the original text)(Newspapers_com)

I Am Pleased To Believe That You Like the Piece Almost as Much as I Do Myself

Oscar Wilde? Louise Jopling? Hesketh Pearson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: After the enormously successful debut of a comedy by Oscar Wilde the audience demanded that the playwright deliver a few words. His speech included a comically self-congratulatory line that was similar to the following:

You think almost as highly of the play as I do myself.

Would you please help me to locate a citation and determine precisely what Wilde said?

Quote Investigator: On February 22, 1892 “The Morning Post” of London printed a review of Oscar Wilde’s new play “Lady Windermere’s Fan” which the paper said “was received with great favour”. The curtain was “thrice raised”, and the theatergoers were eager to hear remarks from Wilde. He began as follows: 1

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe it is the privilege of an author to allow his words to be reproduced by others while he himself remains silent. But, as you seem to wish to hear me speak, I accept the honour you are kind enough to confer upon me.

Wilde praised George Alexander who produced the show and the performers who brought the story to life. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

I have to thank them one and all for the infinite care they have taken to fill in every detail until the sketch has become a finished picture. I think that you have enjoyed the performance as much as I have, and I am pleased to believe that you like the piece almost as much as I do myself.

The newspaper stated that Wilde’s comments “were received with hearty laughter and applause”. Over the years different versions of Wilde’s speech have been presented, however, QI believes that this contemporaneous account probably provided the most accurate transcription.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Pleased To Believe That You Like the Piece Almost as Much as I Do Myself

Notes:

  1. 1892 February 22, The Morning Post, St. James’s Theatre, Quote Page 2, Column 5, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

This Earth Is Used By Other Planets as a Lunatic Asylum

George Bernard Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Influential intellectuals have experienced cosmic despair while observing the behavior of humankind. Here are some statements I have heard attributed to Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Kurt Vonnegut, and others:

  • This planet is being used as an insane asylum by other planets.
  • Beings from other planets are using the Earth as a lunatic asylum.
  • The earth is the lunatic asylum of the Universe.
  • Earth is an insane asylum to which other planets deport their lunatics.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex question; hence, QI will split the response into multiple articles, and this article will center on George Bernard Shaw.

In September 1919 a letter from Judge Henry Neil appeared in several newspapers including “The Weekly Freeman” of Dublin, Ireland, the “The Daily Herald” of London England, 1 and the “New York Tribune” of New York, New York. 2

Neil was an exponent of government supplied pensions for widows with children, and he had communicated with George Bernard Shaw who also supported these pensions. Some U.S. states had passed legislation to implement payments, but some lawmakers resisted. Shaw believed that a willingness to provide pensions to “war widows and not to peace widows” was illogical. Inconsistencies of this type led Shaw to state the following according to Neil. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

“The longer I live, the more I am inclined to the belief that this earth is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This Earth Is Used By Other Planets as a Lunatic Asylum

Notes:

  1. 1919 September 11, The Daily Herald, Pensions for Mothers, Quote Page 2, Column 3, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1919 September 14, New York Tribune, Section 3: Financial Real Estate News, This Lunatic World, Letter To: Editor of The Tribune, Letter From: Judge Henry Neil, Letter Date: Monday, September 1, 1919, Quote Page 2, Column 6, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1919 September 6, The Weekly Freeman, Shaw’s Reply to Judge Neil, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Dublin, Ireland. (British Newspaper Archive)

The Time To Be Happy Is Now; The Place To Be Happy Is Here

Creator: Robert G. Ingersoll, prominent orator and exponent of agnosticism

Context: In 1899 Ingersoll was asked to record his thoughts using an early phonograph device. According to a newspaper account his remarks included the following combination of hedonism and altruism. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

I, too, have my religion. It is this: Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now; the place to be happy is here; and the way to be happy is to make others happy. This is the religion of usefulness; this is the religion of reason.

Ingersoll had delivered a similar message in the past. For example, during a speech in 1872 he said: 2

Reason, Observation and Experience — the Holy Trinity of Science — have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us.

Image Notes: Picture of joyful person from Myriams-Fotos at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1899 February 3, The Junction City Republican, His Idea of Immortality: Col. Ingersoll Leaves His Impressions In a Phonograph, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Junction City, Kansas. (Ingersoll stated that the recording was made January 22, 1899) (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1873, An Oration on the Gods, by Robert G. Ingersoll (Robert Green Ingersoll), Delivered at Fairbury, Illinois on the Evening of January 29, 1872, Quote Page 48, Daily Bulletin Steam Book and Job Print, Cairo, Illinois. (“Experience” is misspelled as “Exprience” in the original text) (Google Books Full View) link

Mediocrity is My Biggest Fear

Creator: Robert Downey Jr., Hollywood star known for playing comic book hero Iron Man and famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes

Context: While living in Los Angles the photographer Karen Hardy Bystedt met with young performers who were launching their movie careers: 1

Amazingly, more than half the actors and actresses I interviewed and photographed between 1987 and 1993 went on to become megastars.

She spoke with Robert Downey Jr. in 1988 after he had appeared in “The Pick-up Artist” and “Less Than Zero”. Downey discussed his fears and sacrifices. Emphasis added: 2

Mediocrity is my biggest fear. I’m not afraid of total failure, because I don’t think that will happen. I’m not afraid of success, because that beats the hell out of failure. It’s being in the middle that scares me.

My biggest sacrifice for success has been losing touch with the day-to-day reality of a modest existence. Los Angeles isn’t reality, and making a movie in Los Angeles is a double-entendre of non-reality.

Image Notes: Picture of Robert Downey, Jr.; creator Gage Skidmore; accessed via Flickr. License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Notes:

  1. 1996 Copyright, Before They Were Famous: In Their Own Words by Karen Hardy Bystedt, (Collection of Interviews), Section: Introduction, Start Page 8, Quote Page 9, General Publishing Group Inc., Santa Monica, California. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1996 Copyright, Before They Were Famous: In Their Own Words by Karen Hardy Bystedt, (Collection of Interviews), Interview with Robert Downey Jr., Date: January 1988, Start Page 108, Quote Page 113, General Publishing Group Inc., Santa Monica, California. (Verified with hardcopy)

Tact Is the Knack of Making a Point Without Making an Enemy

Isaac Newton? Howard W. Newton? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton supposedly coined the following expression:

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.

A variant of this statement uses “knack” instead of “art”. Interestingly, Isaac Newton made some powerful enemies during his lifetime. Do you think this attribution is correct?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Isaac Newton employed this saying. The misattribution was probably caused by confusion with another person whose last name was Newton.

The earliest match found by QI appeared in “Redbook” magazine in August 1946 within a piece by Howard W. Newton presenting a collection of witticisms. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.

Advertising executive Howard W. Newton is the leading candidate for creator of this saying.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tact Is the Knack of Making a Point Without Making an Enemy

Notes:

  1. 1946 August, Redbook, Volume 87, Issue, 4, Do You Agree? by Howard W. Newton, Start Page 50, Quote Page 50, Column 1, Published by Hearst Magazines, New York. (Women’s Magazine Archive ProQuest)

If You Find a Book You Really Want To Read But It Hasn’t Been Written Yet, Then You Must Write It

Toni Morrison? Benjamin Disraeli? Mickey Spillane? Janet Fitch? Ann Patchett? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent American editor, writer, and educator Toni Morrison who authored the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” has been credited with an exhilarating remark about the creative process:

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

I have not been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1981 Toni Morrison spoke at the annual meeting of the Ohio Arts Council, and “The Cincinnati Enquirer” reported some of her comments. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Writing to me is an advanced and slow form of reading. If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

“It took me a long time to do a short book; a long time to leave the world of language and the building up and shaping of the book, but once it began to float I knew I could not not do it . . .

Morrison’s original phrasing differed slightly from the popular modern version of the quotation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Find a Book You Really Want To Read But It Hasn’t Been Written Yet, Then You Must Write It

Notes:

  1. 1981 September 27, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Writing Is Third Career For Morrison by Ellen Brown (Entertainment Reporter), Quote Page F11, Column 1, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

Ten Decimals of π Are Sufficient To Give the Circumference of the Earth To the Fraction of an Inch

Simon Newcomb? John Casey? George McC. Robson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number π is a fundamental mathematical constant which equals the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Trillions of digits of the decimal expansion of π have been calculated using electronic computers and innovative algorithms. Yet, this precision is not needed in the realm of practical measurement. Simon Newcomb, the prominent astronomer and mathematician, once said something like this:

Ten decimal places of π are sufficient to give the circumference of the earth to a fraction of an inch.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1881 Simon Newcomb published “Elements of Geometry” which was based on the foundational tome by Euclid. Here is a passage discussing the calculation of π. The word “computer” refers to a human calculator. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This number π is of such fundamental importance in geometry that mathematicians have devoted great attention to its calculation. . . . Dase, a German computer, carried the calculation to 200 places of decimals. The following are the first 36 figures of his result:

3.141 592 653 589 793 238 462 643 383 279 502 884.

The result is here carried far beyond all the wants of mathematics. Ten decimals are sufficient to give the circumference of the earth to the fraction of an inch, and thirty decimals would give the circumference of the whole visible universe to a quantity imperceptible with the most powerful microscope.

The emphasized text above differs slightly from the modern quotation because it does not repeat the term π.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Ten Decimals of π Are Sufficient To Give the Circumference of the Earth To the Fraction of an Inch

Notes:

  1. 1881, Elements of Geometry by Simon Newcomb (Professor of Mathematics, United States Navy), Book VI: Regular Polygons and the Circle, Problem VII, Quote Page 235, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Life Is a Treasure Hunt

Olivia Wyndham? Marjorie G. Hellier? Kevin J. Cook? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have been attempting to trace an uplifting proverb about adventure and discovery:

Life is a treasure hunt.

The lesson of this phrase is illustrated by the delight experienced when uncovering early instances of this adage. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In July 1924 “The Sketch”, a London periodical, published a piece by Olivia Wyndham who was a member of a society that organized treasure hunts for entertainment. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Every attempt to keep the last Treasure Hunt of the season out of the papers failed completely. The idea of avoiding publicity was a losing fight from the start; but now that it is all over honour is satisfied, and I can add my say in the matter.

I have long wanted to argue with the gentleman who wrote to the paper saying, “Does not the Society of Bright Young People realise that the whole of life is a treasure hunt, etc.,” or words to that effect. In fact, I am afraid he was trying to infer that we were wasting our time, energy, and brains, and were not good citizens.

Wyndham was paraphrasing the words of a detractor, but the elegant encapsulation was hers. Since she wrote the earliest known instance she tentatively deserves credit for coining the expression. This notion is natural, and future researchers may find earlier evidence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is a Treasure Hunt

Notes:

  1. 1924 July 23, The Sketch, Society Treasure Hunts: The Trail and the Chase by Olivia Wyndham, Start Page 158, Quote Page 158, Column 1, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)