Always Forgive Your Enemies; Nothing Annoys Them So Much

Oscar Wilde? Walter Winchell? Reader’s Digest? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A well-known moral injunction states that one should forgive one’s enemies. A humorous twist suggests that one should grant forgiveness because it produces annoyance in one’s adversaries. This notion has been attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and QI has found no substantive evidence that he originated this quip. It is not listed in researcher Ralph Keyes’s important compilation “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde”. 1 Also, the joke does not occur in the 2006 compendium “Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms”. 2

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the popular syndicated column of Walter Winchell in 1954, and he pointed to the mass-circulation magazine “Reader’s Digest”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 3

Reader’s Digest recalls O. Wilde’s: “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

QI has not yet located a precise citation within an issue of “Reader’s Digest”. In addition, quotations with attributions appearing in that magazine were often provided by readers who were compensated. The information was not carefully vetted for accuracy; hence, faulty data was sometimes submitted and propagated.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Always Forgive Your Enemies; Nothing Annoys Them So Much

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1954 May 27, , Courier-Post, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 21, Column 1, Camden, New Jersey. (ProQuest)

Education Is What You Get from Reading the Small Print in a Contract. Experience Is What You Get from Not Reading It

Pete Seeger? Vesta M. Kelly? Mr. Minnick the Cynic? Old Timer? Bill Gold? Evan Esar? Saul Lavisky? Laurence J. Peter? Sydney J. Harris? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Comprehending the details of a complex legal contract is a daunting task. Yet, entrapment by an unnoticed provision of an agreement is a terrible experience. Here is a pertinent saying:

Education is what you get from reading the small print. Experience is what you get from not reading it.

This saying has been attributed to folk singer activist Pete Seeger. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This quip can be expressed in many ways; hence, it is difficult to trace. The earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Wall Street Journal” within the long-running humor column called “Pepper and Salt” in February 1961. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Candid Comment
People may get an education from reading the fine print, but what they get from not reading it is usually experience.— Vesta M. Kelly.

Currently, Vesta M. Kelly is the leading candidate for originator of this joke. Pete Seeger did use the expression during an interview published in October 1979. See the citation given further below:

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Education Is What You Get from Reading the Small Print in a Contract. Experience Is What You Get from Not Reading It

Notes:

  1. 1961 February 14, The Wall Street Journal, Pepper and Salt, Quote Page 12, Column 6, New York. (ProQuest)

Experience Is the Best of Schoolmasters; Only the School-Fees Are Heavy

Thomas Carlyle? Benjamin Franklin? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Johann P. F. Richter? Minna Antrim? Heinrich Heine? William Ralph Inge?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most memorable and painful lessons are usually learned via direct experience, but the cost can be very high. A family of adages depict this point of view. Here are two instances:

  • Experience is a good school, but the fees are heavy.
  • Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is exorbitant.

This saying has been credited to Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, German writer Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, U.S. writer Minna Antrim, and others. Would you please explore this topic.

Quote Investigator: This saying has been circulating and evolving for many years; hence this is a complex topic. Here is a chronological sampling which presents a snapshot of current research:

1743: (Precursor) Experience keeps a dear school, yet Fools will learn in no other. (Benjamin Franklin)

1828: Experience is the best of schoolmasters; only the school-fees are heavy. (Thomas Carlyle)

1843: Dear bought experience is the only effectual schoolmaster. (Anon)

1856: Experience is the only schoolmaster; although the school-fees are somewhat heavy. (Attributed to Johann Paul Friedrich Richter)

1863 Experience is the best schoolmaster, but the school-fees are heavy. (Attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

1874: Experience and practice are the best schoolmasters; but the school fees are somewhat heavy. (Attributed to Johann Paul Friedrich Richter)

1893: Experience was the best of schools, but unfortunately the fees charged in it were extremely high. (Attributed to Heinrich Heine)

1902: Experience is a good teacher but she sends in terrific bills. (Minna T. Antrim)

1927: Experience is a good school, but the fees are high. (Attributed to Heinrich Heine)

1968: Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is much too high. (Anon)

The 1743 statement “Experience keeps a dear school” was a precursor that appeared in Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. The adjective “dear” meant costly or expensive. There is a separate QI article about this statement available here.

In 1828 Thomas Carlyle published an article in “The Foreign Review” of London discussing the works of the major German literary figure Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Carlyle employed the adage when he was commenting on Goethe’s version of the legendary character Faust. Carlyle believed that Faust would learn from his experiences. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Experience, indeed, will teach him, for ‘Experience is the best of schoolmasters; only the school-fees are heavy.’

Carlyle enclosed the adage within quotation marks suggesting that it was already in circulation. Thus, Carlyle can be credited with popularizing the saying, but he may not be its originator.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Experience Is the Best of Schoolmasters; Only the School-Fees Are Heavy

Notes:

  1. 1828, The Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany, Volume 1, Number 2, Goethe’s Helena (Review of Goethe’s Sämmtliche Werke), Start Page 429, Quote Page 438, Black, Young, and Young, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

A Boy of Fifteen Who Is Not a Democrat is Good for Nothing, and He Is No Better Who Is a Democrat at Twenty

John Adams? Thomas Jefferson? John Ewing? John Hurt?

Dear Quote Investigator: Surprisingly, one of the founding fathers of the United States was skeptical about the long-term viability of democracy. The statesman believed that the proponents of democracy were philosophically immature. He was sympathetic to a young person of fifteen who found the system attractive, but he felt that someone over twenty should view a democratic system with suspicion. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: John Adams was a central figure in the birth of the United States. He helped to draft the Declaration of Independence together with Thomas Jefferson. To temper the impulses of the electorate, Adams argued for the separation of powers. The legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be distinct, so that they could constrain one another.

Adams was skeptical of direct democracy. He favored a representative republic structure in which the people elected representatives to a legislature. Adams was the second president of the U.S. from 1797 to 1801. The papers of Thomas Jefferson included an interesting anecdote that occurred during Adams’s presidency. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

January, 1799. In a conversation between Doctor Ewen and the President, the former said one of his sons was an aristocrat, the other a democrat. The President asked if it was not the youngest who was the democrat. Yes, said Ewen. Well, said the President, a boy of fifteen who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at twenty. Ewen told Hurt, and Hurt told me.

Thus, this story was transmitted through two intermediaries before it reached the ears of Jefferson. A footnote accompanying this passage which is available at the “Founders Online” website of the U.S. National Archives identifies the intermediaries. 2 “Ewen” was an alternative spelling of “Ewing”, and “Dr. Ewen” referred to John Ewing. John Hurt was a former chaplain of Virginia who was a political supporter of Jefferson.

The Quote Investigator website has a separate article about a thematically pertinent expression: “If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain” Here is a link to that item.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Boy of Fifteen Who Is Not a Democrat is Good for Nothing, and He Is No Better Who Is a Democrat at Twenty

Notes:

  1. 1829, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Volume 4, Entry date: January 1799, Quote Page 509, F. Carr and Company, Charlottesville, Virginia. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Website: Founders Online, Title: Notes on Comments by John Adams, [1–14 January 1799], Footnote for “Dr. Ewen”. Website description: In 2010, the U.S. National Archives entered into a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia Press to create this website and make freely available online the historical documents of the Founders of the United States of America. (founders.archives.gov accessed on June 2, 2021) link

The Optimist Invents the Airplane and the Pessimist the Parachute

George Bernard Shaw? Gladys Bronwyn Stern? W. H. H. MacKellar? Gil Stern? Mack McGinnis?

Dear Quote Investigator: An entertaining quip contrasts the attitudes of the dreamer and the worrier:

Optimists invent airplanes; pessimists invent parachutes.

This saying has been attributed to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and English author Gladys Bronwyn Stern. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a short piece published in the May 1939 issue of “The Rotarian” credited to W. H. H. MacKellar of Peekskill, New York who was described as an Honorary Rotarian. Rotary International is a voluntary nonprofit service organization.

MacKellar contrasted optimism and pessimism by presenting examples of inventions together with later improvements. He said that optimism led to the invention of the steam boiler, but explosions led pessimism to add safety valves. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Optimism laid down the railroad, but pessimism made it practicable with the air brake and the block-signal system. Optimism designed a ship to sail daringly into the skies—and fall perhaps at times. So pessimism designed the parachute.

Currently, MacKellar is the leading candidate for originator of this notion although his expression was somewhat wordy. The first attributions to other people only occurred many years afterwards.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Optimist Invents the Airplane and the Pessimist the Parachute

Notes:

  1. May 1939, The Rotarian, Volume 54, Number 5, Section: What They’re Saying, Optimism Versus Pessimism by W. H. H. MacKellar of Peekskill, New York (Honorary Rotarian), Quote Page 53, Column 1, Rotary International, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

The People Who Say They Like Poetry and Never Buy Any Are Cheap SOB’s

Kenneth Patchen? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the 1980s I was browsing in the poetry section of a bookshop, and I saw a sign designed to encourage purchasers. Here are two versions:

People who say they love poetry but never buy any are cheap SOB’s.

People who say they like poetry and don’t buy any are a cheap sonsabitches.

There was an ascription on the sign, but I cannot recall who was named. Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1946 U.S. poet and novelist Kenneth Patchen published the experimental work “Sleepers Awake” which included an episode during which a person met an admired poet. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

In a bar on 3rd I met the poet Fitzmichael Kell. He had his latest book in a big stack on the table in front of him and I bought three copies which he was good enough to sign because I believe the people who say they like poetry and never buy any are a pack of cheap sons-of-bitches.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The People Who Say They Like Poetry and Never Buy Any Are Cheap SOB’s

Notes:

  1. 1969 (1946 Copyright), Sleepers Awake, by Kenneth Patchen, Section: Prologue, Quote Page 72, New Directions Publishing, New York. (Verified with scans)

Experience Keeps a Dear School; Yet Fools Will Learn In No Other

Benjamin Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some people are only able to learn via direct experience. They disregard the lessons and the struggles of others. Yet, this experiential approach can be quite costly. The fees incurred may be measured in time expended, energy drained, money squandered, and injuries suffered.

The statesman Benjamin Franklin said something like: the school of experience is very expensive. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin published a popular series of books called “Poor Richard’s Almanack”, and the adage under examination appeared in the almanac for 1743 on the page dedicated to December. The words below have been underlined in red within a scan of the page. The adjective “dear” means high-priced, costly, or expensive in the context below: 1

Experience keeps a dear school,
yet Fools will learn in no other.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Experience Keeps a Dear School; Yet Fools Will Learn In No Other

Notes:

  1. 1743, Poor Richard: An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1743, Being the Third after LEAP YEAR, Benjamin Franklin, Month: December, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Source: University of Pennsylvania Library; accessed at rarebookroom.org on May 25, 2021) link

Composing Free Verse Is Like Playing Tennis Without a Net

Robert Frost? G. K. Chesterton? Eleanor Graham Vance? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent poet Robert Frost did not compose free verse. Instead, he welcomed the structural demands of rhyme and meter. To explicate his choice he used a clever and vivid simile from the domain of tennis. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in February 1933 within a report published by “The Scranton Times” of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Frost spoke to a capacity audience at the local Century Club, and he employed two similes when discussing free verse. Poems written in free verse are not required to follow a regular meter or a rhyming scheme. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Frost read a number of his own poems and quite captivated the audience by his charming personality and sincerity . . .

He likened free verse, which he said he never writes, to playing tennis without a net or handball without a wall. He likes blank verse and frequently uses it in his writings.

A net and a wall provide crucial constraints on the athletic activities of tennis and handball. Similarly, rhyme and meter provide constraints on poems. Yet, Frost’s viewpoint was not rigid regarding rhyme. For example, his popular poem “Birches” was written in blank verse, specifically unrhymed iambic pentameter.

The newspaper excerpt above indicated Frost’s opinion, but it did not present a direct quotation. Further below some citations with direct quotations.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Composing Free Verse Is Like Playing Tennis Without a Net

Notes:

  1. 1933 February 10, The Scranton Times, Frost Reads Poems at Century Club Meeting, Quote Page 22, Column 6, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

The Greatest Discovery of My Generation Is That Human Beings Can Alter Their Lives By Altering Their Attitudes of Mind

William James? Harry Granison Hill? Joseph Fort Newton? Norman Vincent Peale? E. Stanley Jones? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: One’s attitude toward life has an enormous effect on one’s experiences in life. Here are two statements on this theme:

(1) The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

(2) The greatest revolution in my generation was the discovery that human beings by changing their inner attitudes of mind can alter the outer aspects of their lives.

Both of these remarks have been attributed to the prominent U.S. philosopher and psychologist William James, but I have been unable to find any solid citations. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that William James wrote or said either of these sentences. QI conjectures that the statements evolved over time from ideas espoused in the New Thought movement and the Positive Thinking philosophy. The words were attributed to James many years after his death in 1910.

William James did contend that the beliefs of an individual were a crucial determinant of well-being. For example, in May 1895 he delivered a speech on the theme “Is Life Worth Living?” which he published in the “International Journal of Ethics” in October 1895. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.

A separate article about the quotation immediately above is available here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Greatest Discovery of My Generation Is That Human Beings Can Alter Their Lives By Altering Their Attitudes of Mind

Notes:

  1. 1895 October, International Journal of Ethics, Volume 6, Number 1, Is Life Worth Living? by William James, Start Page 1, Quote Page 24, Published by International Journal of Ethics, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (JSTOR) link

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