I Destroy My Enemies When I Make Them My Friends

Abraham Lincoln? Emperor Sigismund? Martin Luther King? Loretta Young? Mark Twain? Cardinal Richelieu? Robert Jones Burdette? John Wooden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The leader of a victorious group decided to treat the vanquished people with compassion. Critics of the leader were unhappy because they believed that the enemies deserved destruction. Here are three versions of the response:

  • The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
  • I will slay my enemies by making them my friends.
  • The only safe and sure way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.

This saying has been attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match for this anecdote located by QI appeared in a Bellows Falls, Vermont newspaper in April 1818. The word “reproaching” should have been “reproached” in the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Emperor Sigismund was reproaching for rewarding instead destroying his enemies, as by that means he gave them an opportunity to injure him. “What!” said the noble minded monarch, “do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends.”

Sigismund died in 1437, and the long delay before this tale appeared reduces its credibility. A similar anecdote was told by the 1940s about Abraham Lincoln who died in 1865. The delay suggests that this story was also apocryphal.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Destroy My Enemies When I Make Them My Friends

Notes:

  1. 1818 April 6, Vermont Intelligencer, Anecdotes, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Bellows Falls, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)

He Can Compress the Most Words In the Fewest Ideas of Anyone I Ever Knew

Abraham Lincoln? Henry Clay Whitney? Elliott Anthony? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A verbose speaker employing overblown rhetoric reportedly inspired a humorous observation from U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Here are two versions:

  1. That feller can crowd the most words into the fewest ideas of anyone I ever saw.
  2. He can concentrate the most words into the smallest idea of any man I ever met.

Is there any substantive evidence that Lincoln actually made this quip?

Quote Investigator: There are two distinct anecdotes supporting the attribution of this joke to Abraham Lincoln. Both tales were told by people who claimed to have heard the remark directly from Lincoln. Unfortunately, both stories were published many years after the assassination of the famous statesman in 1865 with a concomitant reduction in credibility.

Henry Clay Whitney was a close friend of Lincoln who in 1892 published “Life on the Circuit with Lincoln” which included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

There was a small merchant in Chicago, whom (to suppress his real name) I will call Blower, and who sold out his store and embraced the trade, or profession, of politics. Lincoln had great contempt for him, although he gave him an office; but he said to me one day: “That Blower can compress the most words in the fewest ideas of any man I ever knew.”

The second anecdote was told by Elliott Anthony within the 1899 book “The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent”. Anthony was active in politics and frequently met with fellow Republican party member Lincoln. Both were lawyers who regularly visited courts and saw colleagues delivering speeches to juries.

The pair heard a lengthy semi-coherent address about insect-eating storks and the dykes of Holland that was delivered by attorney Robert S. Blackwell. Anthony relayed the following reaction spoken by Lincoln: 2

That beats me! Blackwell can concentrate more words into the fewest ideas of any man I ever knew. The storks of Holland! Why, they would eat him up before he began to get half through telling that story about them.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Can Compress the Most Words In the Fewest Ideas of Anyone I Ever Knew

Notes:

  1. 1892, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln: With Sketches of Generals Grant, Sherman and McClellan, Judge Davis, Leonard Swett, and Other Contemporaries by Henry C. Whitney (Henry Clay Whitney), Chapter 8: Lincoln as a “Merry Andrew”, Quote Page 182, Estes and Lauriat, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1899, The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent, Edited by John M. Palmer, Volume 2, Chapter 32: Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar of Chicago by the Late Judge Elliott Anthony (Revised by Charles E. Anthony), Start Page 602, Quote Page 642 and 643, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full view) link

A Man Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

Abraham Lincoln? William De Britaine? Roger L’Estrange? Italian Proverb? Benjamin Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Evaluating complex legal issues requires expertise. Abraham Lincoln reportedly employed the following adage. Here are two versions:

  • If you are your own lawyer you have a fool for a client.
  • He who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest partial match known to QI appeared in the 1682 book “Humane Prudence, or, The Art by which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur” by William De Britaine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Before you act, it’s Prudence soberly to consider; for after Action you cannot recede without dishonour: Take the Advice of some Prudent Friend; for he who will be his own Counsellour, shall be sure to have a Fool for his Client.

This adage is ambiguous because the term “counselor” has more than one pertinent meaning. A counselor is a person who gives counsel, i.e., an adviser. Alternatively, a counsellor is an attorney, especially one who pleads cases in court. The context suggests to QI that the first interpretation is the most likely.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

Notes:

  1. Year: 1682 (MDCLXXXII), Author: William De Britaine, Title: Humane Prudence, or, The Art by which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur by A.B., Section 18, Quote Page 57, Publication: Printed for John Lawrence, London. (Early English Books Online) link

Let Them Know the Truth, and the Country Is Safe

Abraham Lincoln? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Newseum is a museum in Washington, D.C. featuring exhibits about the history of communication, the news industry, and free expression. A powerful quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln is engraved into one of its walls:

Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.

I have been unable to locate a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the “Boston Morning Journal” of Boston, Massachusetts on April 17, 1865 a couple days after Lincoln’s death on April 15th. A letter writer identified as “E. K.” reported that he had spoken to Lincoln in July 1864, and E. K. presented remarks he ascribed to Lincoln. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Many of his best friends had deserted him, and were talking of an opposition convention to nominate another candidate; and universal gloom was among the people. The North was tired of the war, and supposed an honorable peace attainable, Mr. Lincoln knew it was not—that any peace at that time would be only disunion. Speaking of it, he said: “I have faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is, they are misled. Let them know the truth, and the country is safe.”

QI hypothesizes that the modern quotation evolved from the statement above. Here is a list of variant expressions together with citation dates:

1865: Let them know the truth, and the country is safe.
1907: Let the people know the truth, and the country is safe.
1920: Let the people know the truth and the country will be safe.
1944: Let the people know the facts and the country will be saved.
1969: Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.

The list above represents a snapshot of current findings, and earlier citations for variants may be uncovered by future researchers. Additional details appear below in chronological order.

Continue reading Let Them Know the Truth, and the Country Is Safe

Notes:

  1. 1865 April 17, Boston Morning Journal, The Death of President Lincoln, Message to the Editor of The Boston Journal, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans of microfilm from Boston Public Library)

Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

George Bernard Shaw? Mark Twain? Abraham Lincoln? Cyrus Stuart Ching? J. Frank Condon? Richard P. Calhoon? N. H. Eagle? Cale Yarborough? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular metaphorical adage warns individuals not to engage with disreputable critics. Here are two versions:

  1. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.
  2. Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

This saying has been credited to a triumvirate of quotation superstars: Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and George Bernard Shaw. I doubt these ascriptions because I haven’t seen any solid citations. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.

The adage evolved in a multistep multi-decade process. An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776. QI has a separate article about that saying: Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.

In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated; nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.

The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.

The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by QI appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The ellipsis is in the original text: 2

A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.

“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.'”

Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a pre-existing item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

Notes:

  1. 1872 February 3, The Cambria Freeman, Communication, (Letter to the Editor from J. Frank Condon; letter date Jan 29, 1872), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com and Chronicling America)
  2. 1948 January 3, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 220 Number 27, The Two-Fisted Wisdom of Ching by Beverly Smith, Start Page 15, Quote Page 58, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis Indiana. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)

The Foolish and the Dead Alone Never Change Their Opinion

Abraham Lincoln? James Russell Lowell? Anonymous?

lowell08

Dear Quote Investigator: Intelligent and thoughtful people maintain mental flexibility throughout life. It is irrational to rigidly adhere to a fixed opinion in the face of reliable contrary information. Abraham Lincoln supposedly said:

The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions.

These words have also been credited to the prominent poet and editor James Russell Lowell. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: This quotation appeared in the 1871 collection “My Study Windows” by James Russell Lowell within a section about President Abraham Lincoln. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The imputation of inconsistency is one to which every sound politician and every honest thinker must sooner or later subject himself. The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.

The passage above was written by Lowell and reflected his opinion. He did not ascribe the words to Lincoln; however, some readers probably became confused because the piece was about Lincoln. Lowell’s quotation differed slightly from the popular modern version. The word “opinion” was singular in the original statement.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Foolish and the Dead Alone Never Change Their Opinion

Notes:

  1. 1871, My Study Windows by James Russell Lowell (Professor of Belles-Lettres in Harvard College), Section: Abraham Lincoln: 1864, Start Page 150, Quote Page 166, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Nearly All Men Can Stand Adversity, But If You Want To Test a Man’s Character, Give Him Power

Abraham Lincoln? Thomas Carlyle? Robert G. Ingersoll? Horatio Alger Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the following quotation on the website of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum:

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Lincoln was credited, but I have seen skepticism expressed on other websites. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that this statement was spoken or written by Abraham Lincoln. The famous orator and free thinker Robert G. Ingersoll employed similar phrases when he was describing Lincoln. QI conjectures that this was the primary nexus of confusion: something that was said about Lincoln was transformed into something that was said by Lincoln.

The overall history and evolution of the saying is long and complex. Part of the semantics can be traced back to a remark by Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle in 1841. An exact match for the modern instance with an ascription to Lincoln appeared by 1931.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nearly All Men Can Stand Adversity, But If You Want To Test a Man’s Character, Give Him Power

Suppose You Call a Sheep’s Tail a Leg, How Many Legs Will the Sheep Have?

Abraham Lincoln? John W. Hulbert? Pious Clergyman? George Bradburn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous riddle about the difference between a supposition and a fact:

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?
Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

There are different versions of this puzzler, and each is based on a different type of animal, e.g., a sheep, a calf, a horse, or a pig. But the template for the question and answer remains the same. Abraham Lincoln has usually been given credit for this instructive brainteaser. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Abraham Lincoln did employ this comical riddle by 1862, and detailed citations are given further below. But Lincoln was referring to a conundrum that was already in circulation.

The earliest evidence located by QI was published in multiple newspapers in 1825. The “Berkshire Star” of Massachusetts published a set of “Legislative Anecdotes” while acknowledging the “Washington County Post” of New York. One tale was told by John W. Hulbert who was a member of the New York House of Assembly. The story was about a parson who was interrogating a job candidate whom he disliked, so he employed a trick question to embarrass the jobseeker. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In the course of the debate, Mr. Hulbert remarked that the attempt to call the thing what it was not, reminded him of the story of a good old clergyman in Yankeetown who, though very pious, was fond of a joke.

The parson was sent for, to examine a young man who had offered himself for a school-master, but on his appearance before the trustees, the parson did not like his looks. When it came his turn to speak the parson said he would put a single question.

“Suppose,” said he, “you call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs will the sheep have?” “Why five, to be sure,” answered the would-be-school-master with an air of wisdom. “Very well” said the parson: “So if you call a sheep’s tail a leg, it is a leg, is it? But never mind, if the trustees say so, you may keep the school for what I care!”

In 1825 the riddle was further disseminated when it was reprinted in newspapers such as the “Woodstock Observer” of Woodstock, Vermont and the “Massachusetts Spy” of Worcester, Massachusetts. 2 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Suppose You Call a Sheep’s Tail a Leg, How Many Legs Will the Sheep Have?

Notes:

  1. 1825 April 28, Berkshire Star, Legislative Anecdotes, Quote Page 3, Column 3 and 4, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1825 May 24, Woodstock Observer, From the N.Y. Washington Co. Post Legislative Anecdotes (Acknowledgement to Washington Co. Post, New York), Quote Page 1, Column 3, Woodstock, Vermont. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1825 June 1, Massachusetts Spy, Legislative Anecdote (Acknowledgement to Washington Co. Post, New York), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Worcester, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

If What You Gave Me Last Was Tea, I Want Coffee. If It Was Coffee, I Want Tea

Abraham Lincoln? Traveler? John Randolph of Roanoke? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend when Abraham Lincoln was served a cup of unpalatable brew he made the following hilarious remark:

If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.

I have not been able to find a solid citation for this saying. Are these really the words of Old Abe?

Dear Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this quip known to QI appeared in January 1840 in the “Madison Courier” of Madison, Indiana. The speaker was an unidentified “distinguished citizen of North Carolina”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It is said, that once, on an occasion when a distinguished citizen of North Carolina, was disgusted by the taste of some beverage or other which was placed before him at a public table to answer the place of coffee or tea, he exclaimed, ‘boy! if this is tea bring me coffee, and if it is coffee bring me tea.’

The same jocular item was disseminated in other newspapers in 1840 such as “The North-Carolina Standard” of Raleigh, North Carolina and “The Camden Journal” of South Carolina. 2 3

By 1852 the witticism had been assigned to a Congressman from Virginia with the moniker John Randolph of Roanoke. This ascription became common, but the supporting evidence was weak because Randolph had died many years earlier in 1833.

Special thanks to the fine researcher Barry Popik who located the January 1840 citation and the earliest citation crediting John Randolph. Popik’s webpage on this topic is located here.

By 1902 the remark had been re-assigned to the famous statesman Abraham Lincoln who died in 1865. Nowadays, this unlikely ascription has become prevalent. It is true that the joke was circulating while Lincoln was alive; thus, it was conceivable he employed it; however, QI has found no contemporaneous citations to support this possibility.

This entry presents a snapshot of what is known. The joke was initially linked to an unknown “distinguished citizen of North Carolina”, but the anecdote was prefaced with the locution “it is said” signaling that the tale was being relayed via indirect knowledge. Indeed, the scenario might have been concocted by an anonymous jokesmith. More may be learned by future researchers.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If What You Gave Me Last Was Tea, I Want Coffee. If It Was Coffee, I Want Tea

Notes:

  1. 1840 January 18, Madison Courier, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 1, Column 6, Madison, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1840 February 12, The North-Carolina Standard, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 4, Column 2, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Chronicling America)
  3. 1840 May 2, The Camden Journal, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 1, Column 5, Camden, South Carolina. (Chronicling America)

People Who Like This Sort of Thing Will Find This the Sort of Thing They Like

Abraham Lincoln? Artemus Ward? George Bernard Shaw? Max Beerbohm? Muriel Spark?

ward08Dear Quote Investigator: A popular anecdote asserts that Abraham Lincoln was obliged to listen to a prolix lecture about spiritualism by an enthusiastic friend. After the discourse was complete, Lincoln’s opinion was sought, and he replied with a humorously redundant non-committal statement designed to be inoffensive. Here are three versions:

1) People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.
2) For people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like
3) For those who like that sort of thing I should think it just the sort of thing they would like.

Other prominent figures have been credited with this line such as the wit Max Beerbohm and novelist Muriel Spark. I am suspicious of the attribution to Lincoln. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI hypothesizes that the seed of this family of expressions was sown by the popular humorist Charles Farrar Browne who was known to audiences by his pseudonym Artemus Ward. In 1863 he created advertising material for a set of lectures he was performing. He included parodic testimonials from fictional people, and one ersatz supporter was named “O. Abe”. The name “Artemus” was misspelled as “Artemas” in the following passage from a Maine newspaper in October 1863. Boldface was been added: 1

Artemas Ward among other puffs of his lectures has the following from “Old Abe:”,

Dear Sir–I have never heard any of your lectures, but from what I can learn I should say that for people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like.
Yours, respectably, O. Abe.

The letter penned by Ward was printed in multiple newspapers. The words became linked to Abraham Lincoln because of the suggestive name “Abe”. Over time the phrasing evolved, and a variety of anecdotes were constructed to accompany the expression.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Who Like This Sort of Thing Will Find This the Sort of Thing They Like

Notes:

  1. 1863 October 23, Daily Eastern Argus, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Portland, Maine. (GenealogyBank)