I Quite Agree With You, But Who Are We Two Against So Many?

George Bernard Shaw? Oscar Wilde? Clarence Rook? Alexander Woollcott? Hesketh Pearson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A playwright feared that his upcoming work was about to flop at the box office. After the surprisingly successful inaugural performance the bewildered playwright appeared on stage. Amongst the resounding cheers there was a barely audible hiss. The playwright addressed the lone detractor:

I quite agree with you, but what can we two do against a whole houseful of the opposite opinion?

George Bernard Shaw has received credit for this line. Would you please explore this popular anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the Chicago, Illinois periodical “The Chap-Book” in November 1896. The Latin phrase “popularis aura” means “popular favor”. Boldface has been added to excerpts by QI: 1

I well remember how at the first night of “Arms and the Man” at the Avenue Theatre, after the audience had been successively puzzled, tickled and delighted, Shaw stepped before the curtain to face the applause. He was tremulous, unnerved, speechless. He looked as though he had expected cabbage stalks, and was disappointed. Suddenly a man in the Gallery began to hoot.

Shaw was himself again at once. He opened his lips, and amid the resulting silence he said, looking at the solitary malcontent. “I quite agree with my friend in the Gallery — but what are two against so many?” A single breath of opposition braced his energies. For Shaw is like the kite, and can rise only when the popularis aura is against him.

British journalist Clarence Rook penned the passage above, and apparently he directly witnessed Shaw deliver the line. The comedy “Arms and the Man” was first staged in April 1894 in London. Thus, Rook’s description appeared two years after the event. An earlier citation may exist, but QI has not yet uncovered it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Quite Agree With You, But Who Are We Two Against So Many?

Notes:

  1. 1896 November 1, The Chap-Book Semi-Monthly, Volume 5, Number 12, George Bernard Shaw by Clarence Rook, Start Page 529, Quote Page 539 and 540, Herbert S. Stone & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

How Do You Know That the Earth Isn’t Some Other Planet’s Hell?

Aldous Huxley? George Bernard Shaw? Voltaire? Andy Capp? Reg Smythe? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A dejected literary figure apparently experienced an alarming eschatological revelation:

Maybe this world is another planet’s Hell.

This notion has been credited to English writer Aldous Huxley who penned the classic dystopian novel “Brave New World”. Credit has also been given to playwright George Bernard Shaw. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 Aldous Huxley published the novel “Point Counter Point”. Huxley’s disillusioned intellectual character Maurice Spandrell delivered a line about hell while conversing with a barmaid. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

‘But why should two people be unhappy?’ persisted the barmaid. ‘When it isn’t necessary?’

‘Why shouldn’t they be unhappy?’ Spandrell enquired. ‘Perhaps it’s what they’re here for. How do you know that the earth isn’t some other planet’s hell?’

A positivist, the barmaid laughed. ‘What rot!’

The phrasing above differed from the most common modern version of the quotation, but QI believes that this 1928 citation is the origin of the Huxley attribution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Do You Know That the Earth Isn’t Some Other Planet’s Hell?

Notes:

  1. 1954 (Copyright 1928), Point Counter Point: A Novel by Aldous Huxley, Chapter XVII, Quote Page 306 and 307, Chatto & Windus, London. (Verified with scans)

I Often Quote Myself. It Adds Spice To My Conversation

George Bernard Shaw? Brendan Behan? Reba Lombard? Arthur Caesar? George Jean Nathan? Erskine Johnson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A remarkably large number of utterances from the prominent Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw appear in quotation collections. Apparently, he once humorously commented on his quoteworthiness. Here are three versions:

  • I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.
  • I like to quote from myself; it adds spice to the conversation
  • I always quote myself. It adds spice to the conversation.

Did Shaw really make one of these remarks? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the June 1943 issue of “Reader’s Digest” magazine within a section called “Patter” which printed miscellaneous quotations. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Bernard Shaw once remarked: “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”

QI has not found this quotation in the writings or interviews of Shaw. The items in “Patter” were contributed by readers who received compensation, and some items were of doubtful accuracy. Shaw died in 1950; hence, this quotation was circulating for several years while he was alive which increases its credibility. Nevertheless, QI does not know whether this quotation is authentic.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Often Quote Myself. It Adds Spice To My Conversation

Notes:

  1. 1943 June, Reader’s Digest, Volume 42, Patter, Quote Page 18, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

The Worst Sin Towards Our Fellow Creatures Is Not To Hate Them, But To Be Indifferent To Them

George Bernard Shaw? Anthony Anderson? Wilhelm Stekel? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The playwright George Bernard Shaw apparently contended that indifference to another person was a greater transgression than hatred. He called this indifference a sin. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw’s play “The Devil’s Disciple” was first performed in London in 1897. During the second act the character Anthony Anderson who is a minister hears his wife expressing hatred toward another character. He responds to her as follows. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Come, dear, you’re not so wicked as you think. The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. After all, my dear, if you watch people carefully, you’ll be surprised to find how like hate is to love.

The condemnation of indifference is expressed by one of Shaw’s characters and not directly by Shaw himself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Worst Sin Towards Our Fellow Creatures Is Not To Hate Them, But To Be Indifferent To Them

Notes:

  1. 1906 (1900 Copyright), The Devil’s Disciple: A Melodrama by Bernard Shaw (George Bernard Shaw), (Play produced in London in 1897), Act II, (Line spoken by Anthony Anderson), Quote Page 82, Brentano’s, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

There Are Only Two Tragedies. One Is Not Getting What One Wants, and the Other Is Getting It

Oscar Wilde? George Bernard Shaw? Oliver Onions? Anonymous?

Quote Investigator: The psychology of human desire is paradoxical. The failure to achieve a goal can lead to unhappiness and ever despair. Yet, attaining an objective can produce an aftermath of uncertainty and lassitude. The following adage is humorous and poignant:

There are two tragedies in life—not getting what you want, and getting it.

This notion has been credited to the famous wit Oscar Wilde and the prominent playwright George Bernard Shaw. Did either of these Irishmen really employ this saying? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Both Wilde and Shaw used versions of this adage, but Wilde deserves credit for coinage. Oddly, the version in Shaw’s 1903 play “Man and Superman” changed over time as shown in the citations given further below.

The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the 1892 play “Lady Windermere’s Fan: A Play About a Good Woman” by Oscar Wilde. The minor character Mr. Dumby asked the character Lord Darlington whether the love he felt for Lady Windermere had ever been reciprocated. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

DUMBY
She doesn’t really love you then?

LORD DARLINGTON
No, she does not!

DUMBY
I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst, the last is a real tragedy! . . .

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Are Only Two Tragedies. One Is Not Getting What One Wants, and the Other Is Getting It

Notes:

  1. 1893 Copyright, Lady Windermere’s Fan: A Play About a Good Woman by Oscar Wilde, (Performed at St. James Theatre in London on February 22, 1892), Third Act, Quote Page 94, Elkin Mathews and John Lane, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

It Was Shaw Who Advised Young Playwrights To Gear the Length of Each Act To the Endurance of the Human Bladder

Alfred Hitchcock? George Bernard Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Enthusiastic critics treat films as elevated objects of art, but the famous director Alfred Hitchcock once insightfully remarked on the pragmatic limitations placed on commercial movies by human biology. He stated that the proper length of a film was dependent on the endurance of the human bladder. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1963 “The Oregonian” of Portland, Oregon published comments made by Alfred Hitchcock during a phone interview. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Motion pictures are the only form of entertainment where the audience is forced to sit quietly for two or three hours without interruption, Hitchcock continued. In theatrical terms, television is superior in this regard to motion pictures. The hour-long show is broken into three acts because of the commercials.

“Wasn’t it George Bernard Shaw who tried that noble experiment in one of his early plays? He tried to discover how long the first act could run, based upon the endurance of the human bladder. I wish I could recall his conclusions.”

On this occasion Hitchcock spoke on the bladder theme, but he did not utter a synoptic remark that would fit into a book of quotations. QI is unsure whether Shaw actually wrote or spoke on this topic.

A year later in 1964 Hitchcock traveled to San Francisco, California to shoot a scene for the film “Marnie”, and he communicated with a journalist working for the “San Francisco Examiner”. Hitchcock said that the running time of “Marnie” would be less than two hours, and he opposed overly-long films: 2

“If it’s a compelling story, you want to read it at one sitting. The novel can be put down and picked up again. The play is divided into three acts. But the movie should be quick, terse and all of a piece.

“I think it was Shaw who advised young playwrights to gear the length of each act to the endurance of the human bladder.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Was Shaw Who Advised Young Playwrights To Gear the Length of Each Act To the Endurance of the Human Bladder

Notes:

  1. 1963 November 22, The Oregonian, Behind the Mike by Francis Murphy, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1964 February 12, San Francisco Examiner, Hitchcock on Shipboard by Jeanne Miller, Quote Page 5C, Column 5, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com)

When You Want To Fool the World, Tell the Truth

Otto von Bismarck? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? George Bernard Shaw? Gaston Means? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: An individual who is distrusted can tell the absolute truth and experience solid skepticism. This is particularly accurate when the truth is difficult to believe or comprehend. This observation is reflected in the following adage. Here are four versions:

  • When you have to fool the world, tell the truth.
  • To fool the world tell the truth.
  • The way to fool the people is to tell the truth.
  • When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.

This saying has been attributed to Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In February 1885 the “Democrat and Chronicle” of Rochester, New York reported on a confusing stock transaction executed by a financial partner of the powerful speculator Jay Gould. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The entire street was puzzled by the performance. The general opinion seemed to be that the transactions were “wash” sales and that Gould had simply sold the stock with one hand and bought with the other. Others held that Gould was simply acting on Bismarck’s principle: “When you have to fool the world, tell the truth.”

Gould’s partner and confidential broker sold a large number of shares of Western Union. Normally, this would cause the share price to drop significantly, but Wall Street denizens suspected that something secret was occurring, and the price only fell a small amount. This outcome pleased Gould.

In 1885 Bismarck was still a powerful figure in European politics; he lived until 1898. QI has not yet found a contemporary German version of this quotation ascribed to the statesman. The newspaper referred to the adage as “Bismarck’s principle”; hence, it remains possible that he never said it; instead, observers synthesized the statement to describe the behavior of Bismarck.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When You Want To Fool the World, Tell the Truth

Notes:

  1. 1885 February 16, Democrat and Chronicle, Mystifying Wall Street: Selling Out Western Union, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Socialism Would Take Too Many Evenings

Oscar Wilde? H. G. Wells? George Bernard Shaw? Michael Walzer? Arnold S. Kaufman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some forms of socialism are implemented via a participatory process. An engaged citizenry would attend meetings, learn about different approaches, discuss topics, formulate policies, build consensus, and vote. These tasks can be quite laborious. Here are two versions of a critical statement:

  • Socialism would take too many evenings.
  • The trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings.

This saying has been attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde, the science fiction author H. G. Wells, and the prominent playwright George Bernard Shaw. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900. H. G. Wells died in 1946. G. B. Shaw died in 1950. QI has not yet found convincing evidence that this remark was made by any of these three luminaries.

The earliest match found by QI appeared in the journal “Dissent” in 1968. Political theorist Michael Walzer published “A Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen: Two Cheers for Participatory Democracy”. Walzer asserted that: “Self-government is a very demanding and time-consuming business”, and he referred to “meetings of study groups, clubs, editorial boards, and political parties where criticism will be carried on long into the night”. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Socialism, Oscar Wilde once wrote, would take too many evenings. This is, it seems to me, one of the most significant criticisms of socialist theory that has ever been made. The fanciful sketch above is only intended to suggest its possible truth. Socialism’s great appeal is the prospect it holds out for the development of human capacities.

The statement attributed to Wilde was not enclosed in quotation marks; hence, it was possible that Walzer was using his own words to present a paraphrase or summary of Wilde’s viewpoint. Currently, QI does not know the underlying source, and QI hopes that this article can be used as a starting point for future researchers who will make additional advances.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Socialism Would Take Too Many Evenings

Notes:

  1. 1968 May-June, Dissent, A Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen: Two Cheers for Participatory Democracy by Michael Walzer, Start Page 243, Quote Page 243, Dissent Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Beware of His False Knowledge: It Is More Dangerous Than Ignorance

George Bernard Shaw? Alexander Pope? H. W. James? Thomas Henry Huxley? Paul Janet? George Pellew? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I saw a tweet with a quotation attributed to the famous playwright and intellectual George Bernard Shaw:

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.

I haven’t been able to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1903 George Bernard Shaw published “Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy”. The book included a section titled “Maxims for Revolutionists”. One of the adages closely matched the statement under analysis. Yet, it did differ slightly. Here are four of Shaw’s maxims. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

A learned man is an idler who kills time with study. Beware of his false knowledge: it is more dangerous than ignorance.

Activity is the only road to knowledge.

Every fool believes what his teachers tell him, and calls his credulity science or morality as confidently as his father called it divine revelation.

Shaw’s comment about false knowledge has close precursors, and QI suggests a possible lineage for the remark by presenting selected citations in chronological order below.

Continue reading Beware of His False Knowledge: It Is More Dangerous Than Ignorance

Notes:

  1. 1905 (1903 Copyright), Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy by Bernard Shaw (George Bernard Shaw), Section: Maxims for Revolutionists, Start Page 226, Quote Page 230, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

You Are My Fifth Favorite Actor. The First Four Are the Marx Brothers

George Bernard Shaw? Winston Churchill? Cedric Hardwicke? Blanche Patch? Leonard Lyons? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to a Hollywood legend, a famous intellectual or statesman once praised a prominent actor with a left-handed compliment. Here are two versions:

  • You are my fifth favorite actor. The first four are the Marx Brothers.
  • You are my fourth favorite actor. The first three are the Marx Brothers.

The famous person was supposedly George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill. The actor was the English star of the stage and screen Cedric Hardwicke. Would you please explore this entertaining tale?

Quote Investigator: Five Marx brothers were involved in the entertainment business; they employed the following stage names: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, and Gummo. The first four appeared in several movies together, but only the first three achieved stardom.

The earliest strong match for the anecdote located by QI appeared in the Hollywood gossip column of Leonard Lyons in 1946. The quotation emerged via a dialog. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Sir Cedric Hardwicke, now, co-starring with Katharine Cornell in “Antigone,” starred in some of Shaw’s plays in London. Shaw once told him: “Cedric, you are my fourth favorite actor.” Hardwicke asked: “G. B. S., who are the other three?” And Shaw replied: “The Marx Bros.”

This version referred to three Marx Brothers instead of four. Lyons indicated that he heard the anecdote from Hardwicke, and QI conjectures that Hardwicke constructed this humorous story by altering a comment made by Shaw. This conjecture is based on the 1951 citation given immediately below and the April 17, 1959 citation given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Are My Fifth Favorite Actor. The First Four Are the Marx Brothers

Notes:

  1. 1946 March 14, The Dayton Daily News, The Lyons Den: Pauley Turns Ickes Photo To the Wall by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 11, Column 3, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)