Life Is Not About Finding Yourself. Life Is About Creating Yourself

George Bernard Shaw? Mary McCarthy? Thomas Szasz? Sydney J. Harris? Helen A. De Rosis? Victoria Y. Pellegrino? Karen Horney? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: For decades pop-psychology has emphasized the task of “finding yourself”, i.e., identifying your deepest values, abilities, feelings, and desires. Yet, these qualities are not immutable. Instead, living fully means endlessly recreating yourself. Here are two versions of a pertinent saying:

(1) Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

(2) The self is not something you find; it is something you create.

This notion has been attributed to playwright George Bernard Shaw, novelist Mary McCarthy, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, and journalist Sydney J. Harris. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this saying is difficult because it can be expressed in many different ways. QI has found no substantive evidence that George Bernard Shaw who died in 1950 employed this saying; also, QI has seen no substantive evidence that Mary McCarthy who died in 1989 used this saying.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1969 within the syndicated column of Sydney J. Harris. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Young people searching for their “real self” must learn that the real self is not something one finds as much as it is something one makes; and it is one’s daily actions that shape the inner personality far more permanently than any amount of introspection or intellection.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is Not About Finding Yourself. Life Is About Creating Yourself

Notes:

  1. 1969 April 18, Record-Gazette, Strictly Personal by Sydney J. Harris (Syndicated), (newspaper has misspelling: Sidney) Quote Page 1, Column 10, Banning, California. (Newspapers_com)

It Is the Soul’s Duty To Be Loyal To Its Own Desires

Rebecca West? George Bernard Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent British author and literary critic Rebecca West once wrote about the necessity to be loyal to one’s own desires. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1913 Rebecca West published in the journal “The New Freewoman” a review of George Bernard Shaw’s play “Androcles and the Lion”. West suggested that the actions of the character Ferrovius reflected the yearnings of his soul, and she presented the following guidance. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

It is the soul’s duty to be loyal to its own desires. It must abandon itself to its master-passion.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is the Soul’s Duty To Be Loyal To Its Own Desires

Notes:

  1. 1913 September 15, The New Freewoman: An Individualist Review, Volume 1, Number 7, Editor: Dora Marsden, “Androcles and the Lion” by Rebecca West (Review of George Bernard Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion”), Start Page 128, Quote Page 128, Column 22, The New Freewoman, Ltd., London. (Accessed at modjourn.org on September 18, 2021) link

A Happy Family Is But an Earlier Heaven

George Bernard Shaw? John Bowring? John Browning? John Bouring?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some envision heaven filled with a joyous, loving, and interconnected group of people united on a higher spiritual plane. If one is a member of a happy family here on Earth then it is possible to obtain a glimpse of this future possibility. One may express this notion as follows:

A happy family is an earlier heaven.

This statement has been attributed to playwright George Bernard Shaw, political economist Sir John Bowring, and parliamentarian Sir John Browning. Would you please help me to identify the correct originator?

Quote Investigator: Sir John Bowring’s career was long and varied. He wrote articles about economics, served as a Member of the U.K. Parliament, worked a literary translator, and was appointed Governor of Hong Kong. In addition, his Unitarian faith inspired him to write many hymns. In 1837 a volume of “Hymns for Public and Private Worship” compiled by John R. Beard included a work celebrating domestic life titled “Home Joys” credited to Bowring containing the following two verses. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The pilgrim’s step in vain
Seeks Eden’s sacred ground;
But in home’s holy joys, again
An Eden may be found.

A glance of heaven to see,
To none on earth is given;
And yet—a happy family
Is but an earlier heaven.

Bowring’s name was followed by an asterisk, and the accompanying note stated that the hymn was an original “composed for the most part expressly for the volume”.

In 1841 John Bowring published the third edition of “Matins and Vespers: With Hymns and Occasional Devotional Pieces”. He included the hymn he wrote with slightly different punctuation. 2

A glance of heaven to see,
To none on earth is given;
And yet a happy family
Is but an earlier heaven.

The first edition of “Matins and Vespers” appeared in 1823, but the hymn containing the quotation under examination was absent. 3 QI has not yet seen the second edition and does not know whether it included the hymn and quotation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Happy Family Is But an Earlier Heaven

Notes:

  1. 1837, A Collection of Hymns for Public and Private Worship, Compiled by John R. Beard, Hymn Number 517: Home Joys by Bowring (Dr. Bowring), Verse Number 6, Start Page 311, Quote Page 312, Published by John Green, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1841, Matins and Vespers: With Hymns and Occasional Devotional Pieces by John Bowring, Third Edition Altered and Enlarged, Hymn: Home Joys, Start Page 267, Quote Page 268, Published by J. Green, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1823, Matins and Vespers: With Hymns and Occasional Devotional Pieces by John Bowring, (Quotation is absent), Printed for the author and sold by G. and W. B. Whittaker, London. (Google Books Full View) 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

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)