A Work of Art Is Never Finished, Merely Abandoned

Paul Valéry? W. H. Auden? Anaïs Nin? Maya Deren? Jean Cocteau? Gore Vidal? Marianne Moore? George Lucas? Oscar Wilde?

Dear Quote Investigator: A creative person who is absorbed with the task of generating an artwork hesitates to declare completion. Reworking and improving a piece are always tantalizing possibilities. Here are five versions of a saying about unavoidable incompleteness:

  • A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
  • A work is never completed, but merely abandoned.
  • A work of art is never completed, only abandoned.
  • Books are never finished—they are merely abandoned.
  • Films are never completed, they are only abandoned.

The prominent poets Paul Valéry and W. H. Auden have both received credit for this adage. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In March 1933 Paul Valéry published an essay in “La Nouvelle Revue Française” (“The New French Review”) about his poem “Le Cimetière marin” (“The Cemetery by the sea”). The saying under analysis was included in this article although the exposition was lengthy. Over time Valéry’s words were streamlined and modified to yield the current set of expressions. Here is the original French followed by a rendering into English. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiétude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé, – mot qui pour eux n’a aucun sens, – mais abandonné ; et cet abandon, qui le livre aux flammes ou au public (et qu’il soit l’effet de la lassitude ou de l’obligation de livrer) est une sorte d’accident, comparable à la rupture d’une réflexion, que la fatigue, le fâcheux ou quelque sensation viennent rendre nulle.

The following translation by Rosalie Maggio appeared in the valuable reference “The Quote Verifier”: 2

In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, of the book to the fire or to the public, whether due to weariness or to a need to deliver it for publication, is a sort of accident, comparable to the letting-go of an idea that has become so tiring or annoying that one has lost all interest in it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Work of Art Is Never Finished, Merely Abandoned

Notes:

  1. Date: Mars 1933 (March 1933), Periodical: La Nouvelle Revue Française (The New French Review), Article: Au sujet du Cimetière marin (Concerning the Cemetery by the Sea), Author: Paul Valéry, Start Page 399, Quote Page 399, Publisher: La Nouvelle Revue Française, Paris, France. (On February 23, 2019 QI accessed image showing Table of Contents via gallimard.fr; QI has verified that Table of Contents for March 1933 lists the article; also text is visible in multiple snippets within La Nouvelle Revue Française in Google Books, but QI has not yet accessed the issue directly to view the article) link
  2. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Entry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned”, Quote Page 167 and 317, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn

Benjamin Franklin? Confucius? Xunzi? Hsüntze? Native American Saying? Shuo Yuan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following tripartite expression encapsulates an influential approach to education:

Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I remember,
involve me and I learn.

The U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin and the Chinese philosopher Confucius have both received credit for these words. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Benjamin Franklin crafted this expression. The earliest partial match known to QI occurred in the writings of Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a Confucian philosopher who lived in the third century B.C.E.

Several English renderings have been published over the years. The following excerpt is from “Xunzi: The Complete Text” within chapter 8 titled “The Achievements of the Ru”. The translator was Eric L. Hutton, and the publisher was Princeton University Press in 2014. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Not having heard of it is not as good as having heard of it. Having heard of it is not as good as having seen it. Having seen it is not as good as knowing it. Knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice. Learning arrives at putting it into practice and then stops . . .

The word “it” above referred to the proper Confucian way of life. This passage from Xunzi clearly differed from the statement under examination, yet QI believes that the Chinese saying acted as the seed for an efflorescence that included several modern variants.

Another ancient Chinese source containing a partial match is a collection of stories called the Shuo Yuan (SY). The following excerpt was translated by John Knoblock and appeared in 1990: 2

The SY says: “The ear’s hearing something is not as good as the eye’s seeing it; the eye’s seeing it is not as good as the foot’s treading upon it; the foot’s treading upon it is not as good as the hands differentiating it.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn

Notes:

  1. 2014 Copyright, Xunzi: The Complete Text, Translated by Eric L. Hutton, Chapter 8: The Achievements of the Ru, Quote Page 64, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1990, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works by John Knoblock, Volume 2: Books 7 to 16, Section: Notes, Footnote 99, Quote Page 289, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. (Verified with scans)

When We Are Tired, We Are Attacked by Ideas We Conquered Long Ago

Friedrich Nietzsche? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A fatigued philosopher may forgetfully return to previous ideas. The worn out thinker may fruitlessly reexamine notions that were rightfully rejected in the past. The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has received credit for the following remark:

When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

I am skeptical of this ascription because I have not seen a solid citation. Also, I have not seen the original statement in German. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Friedrich Nietzsche died in 1900. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared many years later in the 1957 collection “The Book of Unusual Quotations” compiled by Rudolf Flesch which included the following entry. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

This article presents a snapshot of current research followed by a tentative conclusion. The German versions of this quotation seen by QI were apparently derived from the English statement, and QI has been unable to find earlier matches using German instances.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When We Are Tired, We Are Attacked by Ideas We Conquered Long Ago

Notes:

  1. 1957, The Book of Unusual Quotations, Compiled by Rudolf Flesch, Topic: Idea, Quote Page 124, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)

If There Is a God, He Is a Malign Thug

Mark Twain? Clara Clemens? Justin Kaplan? Harlan Ellison? Darrell Schweitzer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Famous author Mark Twain was grief-stricken when his daughter Susy died at age 24. The following expression of bitter despair has been ascribed to him:

If there is a God, he is a malign thug.

Oddly, no one has presented a good citation, and I have become skeptical of this attribution. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find this precise statement in the writings, dictations, or speeches of Mark Twain. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2 Further, it does not appear in the specialized volume “The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood” edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough. 3

QI conjectures that this statement was incorrectly derived from the 1966 book “Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography” by Justin Kaplan. The distinctive phrase “malign thug” occurred when Kaplan was attempting to depict the thoughts of Mark Twain. Kaplan was not directly quoting Twain. Details are given further below.

Twain’s thoughts about religion were complex, contradictory, and heterodox. He did not want some of his controversial opinions to be published until many years after his death which occurred in 1910. Yet, the 1912 book “Mark Twain: A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens” by Albert Bigelow Paine did contain some previously unpublished theological material written by Twain. Paine estimated that the following text was written in the early 1880s: 4

I do not believe in special providences. I believe that the universe is governed by strict and immutable laws. If one man’s family is swept away by a pestilence and another man’s spared it is only the law working: God is not interfering in that small matter, either against the one man or in favor of the other.

This conception of an aloof God-like being does not really fit the notion of a “malign thug”. Yet, Twain did use the adjectives “malign” and “malignant” when describing the Biblical deity during dictations recorded later in his life in 1906. See the passages from “The Bible According to Mark Twain” presented further below.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading If There Is a God, He Is a Malign Thug

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched February 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1995, The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood, Edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough, (Quotation is absent), University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1912, Mark Twain: A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Albert Bigelow Paine, Volume 4, Chapter 295: Mark Twain’s Religion, Quote Page 1583, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Be the Brightest Person in the Room; Then You Can’t Learn Anything

James Watson? Holly Hunter? James L. Brooks? Steven R. Craig? Michael Dell? Ed Burns? Orlando Taylor? Selena Gomez? Taylor Swift? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The molecular biologist James Watson earned a Nobel Prize as a member of the team that elucidated the helical structure of DNA. He did not claim to be uniquely brilliant; instead, he offered the following self-effacing guidance. Here are three versions:

  • Never be the brightest person in the room; then you can’t learn anything.
  • If you’re the brightest person in the room, you’re in trouble.
  • If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

Would you please help me to find a citation and determine which version is correct?

Quote Investigator: James Watson did communicate this notion several times using different expressions over the years. For example, in February 2003 an article about Watson appeared in the periodical “Seed” which was reprinted in “The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004”. The journalist Jennet Conant presented this remark from the scientist: 1

“Generally, it pays to talk,” says Watson. “Oh, and another rule: Never be the brightest person in the room; then you can’t learn anything.”

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Be the Brightest Person in the Room; Then You Can’t Learn Anything

Notes:

  1. 2004, The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004, Edited by Steven Pinker, The New Celebrity by Jennet Conant, (First published in Seed, February 2003), Start Page 38, Quote Page 39, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)

Never Argue With a Fool, Onlookers May Not Be Able To Tell the Difference

Mark Twain? Biblical Proverb? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Conflict on social media is now endemic, but it is not really new. Acrimonious exchanges between participants during the primeval days of online forums were known as “flame wars”.

Famed humorist Mark Twain has received credit for a germane cautionary remark:

Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

Unfortunately, no one has presented a good citation for Twain. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive evidence crediting this remark to Mark Twain. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The Bible contains a thematically related passage in Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5: 3

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Statements that were closer to the modern template emerged in the 1800s. Here is a sampling with dates which shows the variation in phrasing and the evolution over time. All of the earliest citations were anonymous.

1878: Don’t argue with a fool, or the listener will say there is a pair of you.

1878: Don’t argue with a fool or listeners will think there are two of you.

1896: Arguing with a fool shows that there are two.

1930: When you argue with a fool, he’s doing the same thing.

1930: When you argue with a fool be sure he isn’t similarly occupied.

1937 Never argue with a fool. But if you must, the safest way is to carry on the debate with yourself.

1938: Never argue with a fool in public lest the public not know which is which.

1943: When you argue with a fool, be sure he isn’t similarly engaged.

1951: It isn’t smart to argue with a fool; listeners can’t tell which is which.

1954: Never argue with a fool. Bystanders can’t tell which is which.

1966: Don’t argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

1999: Never argue with an idiot. You’ll never convince the idiot that you’re correct, and bystanders won’t be able to tell who’s who.

2012: Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Argue With a Fool, Onlookers May Not Be Able To Tell the Difference

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched February 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. Website: BibleHub, Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5, Translation: New American Standard Bible. (Accessed BibleHub.com on February 18, 2019) link

Love Is a Promise. Love Is a Souvenir

John Lennon? Roland Orzabal? Nicky Holland? Tears for Fears?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous songwriter and musician John Lennon has received credit for the following lines:

Love is a promise
Love is a souvenir
Once given
Never forgotten, never let it disappear

My mother who is very knowledgeable about the Beatles says that these are not the words of John Lennon. Are these lines from a poem or a song lyric? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1989 the British band “Tears for Fears” released the album “The Seeds of Love”. The lines above were written by Roland Orzabal and Nicky Holland for the song “Advice for the Young At Heart”.

Readers can visit the YouTube website and see a music video of the song here. The total duration is 4 minutes and 42 seconds, and the words are spoken at 1 minute 58 seconds. 1

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Love Is a Promise. Love Is a Souvenir

Notes:

  1. YouTube video, Title: Tears For Fears – Advice For The Young At Heart, Uploaded on October 8, 2009, Uploaded by: TearsForFearsVEVO, (Quotation starts at 1 minute 58 seconds of 4 minutes 42 seconds) Song: Advice for the Young At Heart, Authors: Roland Orzabal and Nicky Holland, Album: The Seeds of Love, Group: Tears for Fears. (Accessed YouTube.com on February 17, 2019) link

If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next

William Ralph Inge? Fulton J. Sheen? Leonard Cohen? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? E. Luccock? Joseph R. Sizoo?

Dear Quote Investigator: Any organization that aspires to multi-generational longevity must not become enmeshed in evanescent enthusiasms and fashions. Long-term steadiness and perspective are required. Here are two pertinent sayings:

  1. If you marry the spirit of your age, you will be a widow in the next.
  2. If you marry the spirit of your generation, you will be a widower in the next.

This notion has been credited to two prominent religious figures: William Ralph Inge who was Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London and U.S. Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who was a popular broadcaster. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: William Ralph Inge known as Dean Inge or “The Gloomy Dean” delivered a series of lectures at Sion College in 1911 titled “Co-operation of the Church with the Spirit of the Age”. He cautioned that the church must not be caught up in transient worldly affairs: 1

. . . the Church must not be identified with any particular institution or denomination, or any tendencies which seemed to be dominant in our generation. The Church was a Divine idea which required tens of thousands of years to reach its full development. They must not secularise its message and endeavour to reach men’s souls through their stomachs.

For several decades Dean Inge kept a diary, and in 1911 he wrote a contemporaneous entry about the lecture series. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I was moved to tell them that there are many spirits of the age, most of them evil; that we were not agreed what the Church means; and that it is not certain that religious bodies ought to co-operate with secular movements at all. Also, if you marry the Spirit of your own generation you will be a widow in the next.

This diary entry serves as evidence that Inge originated the saying under analysis; however, the entry only appeared publicly many years after its 1911 composition in the 1949 book “The Diary of a Dean”. The text above is from “The Manchester Guardian” which printed extracts from the book shortly before its publication.

Inge’s lecture series was discussed and quoted in 1911, but QI has not yet found a close match for the saying in periodicals of that period.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next

Notes:

  1. 1911 December 14, The Wells Journal, Christian Ministers and Politics, Quote Page 6, Column 2, County: Somerset, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1949 December 3, The Manchester Guardian, The Diary of a Dean by the Very Rev. W. R. Inge, (Extracts from “The Diary of a Dean” which is to be published by Messrs. Hutchinson on December 8, 1949), Date of entry: November 10, 1911, Quote Page 6, Column 6 and 7, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

Give the Gentleman One White Chip

Wilson Mizner? Samuel Thomas Hauser? Edward O. Wolcott? Silver Dick? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A self-satisfied gambler once approached a poker table and asked to join the game. The dealer shook his head while saying, “This game is probably too big for you”.

The irritated gambler placed ten large denomination bills on the table. There was a silence. The gambler said haughtily, “Is something wrong with my money?” The dealer counted the bills and said, “You may join us. Please give the gentleman one blue chip.”

There are many variations of this anecdote. Different quantities of money are mentioned, and sometimes the chip is white. The punchline is typically delivered by adventurer, playwright, and rogue Wilson Mizner. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This tale is difficult to trace because the phrasing is highly variable. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Minneapolis Tribune” of Minnesota in January 1890. The setting was the Silver Bow Club of Butte, Montana. The high-rolling millionaire participants were named Daly, Clark, Hogan, and Hauser. In this version, the eager individual was naïve and not arrogant. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Give me a hundred dollars worth of chips,” said he, slapping a crisp $100 bill upon the table.

Daly was running the bank. He sized up the bill and looked surprised, then looked across at Clark. Clark glanced at Hogan and Hogan took a side peep at Hauser. “Well, what’s the matter gentlemen,” said my friend, the tourist, with a bland smile, “ain’t I in the game?”

There was a silent moment. “He wants to know if he’s in the game,” at length said Daly, turning helplessly to Hauser, who sat on his right.

“In the game,” repeated the great mining king, “why of course he’s in the game. Daly, give the gentleman a white chip.

After that you could not have kept that travelling man in the house with a lasso. In fact he left the town that night on the east bound freight, but he did not join the game.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Give the Gentleman One White Chip

Notes:

  1. 1890 January 10, The Minneapolis Tribune, Heard About Town, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)

Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Fanny Brice? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Beatrice Lillie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Giving birth to a child is an intense physical ordeal. A witty woman employed the following simile:

Having a baby is like trying to push a grand piano through a transom.

This remark has been attributed to the prominent Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth and to the popular comedienne and actress Fanny Brice. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: In 1919 Fanny Brice gave birth to her first child Frances. A pregnant friend contacted Brice to learn about her experience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A few days after Frances was born, Irene Castle, who was expecting a baby within a few weeks, called Fanny at the hospital on Long Island. “How does it feel, Fanny?” she asked anxiously.

“Like pushing a piano through a transom,” Fanny replied.

The passage above appeared in the 1953 biography “The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice” by Norman Katkov. This was the earliest published instance of the full quip known to QI. Thus, Brice received credit several decades after she reportedly made the remark. Longworth also used the saying, but she disclaimed credit by 1981.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Notes:

  1. 1953, The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice by Norman Katkov, Chapter 7: Nick Arnstein: “Not Only to Women but to Men”, Quote Page 102, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)