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 citizen 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)

Fashions, After All, Are Only Induced Epidemics

George Bernard Shaw? Gloria Steinem? W.H. Auden? Leo Rosten? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A style, jingle, gif, graffito, saying, or idea that rapidly mutates and propagates through a culture and achieves popularity is called a “meme” nowadays. The coinage of “meme” was based on “gene”, but a different biological metaphor was employed in the past. Here are two statements that have been attributed to the influential playwright George Bernard Shaw.

  • Fashions are induced epidemics.
  • A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.

Would you please help me to find a citation together with the correct phrasing?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw’s play “The Doctor’s Dilemma” was first staged in 1906. Shaw published the text of the play combined with a preface in 1911. A section of the preface titled “Fashions and Epidemics” cogently discussed fads in clothing and in medical procedures: 1

A demand, however, can be inculcated. This is thoroughly understood by fashionable tradesmen, who find no difficulty in persuading their customers to renew articles that are not worn out and to buy things they do not want. By making doctors tradesmen, we compel them to learn the tricks of trade; consequently we find that the fashions of the year include treatments, operations, and particular drugs, as well as hats, sleeves, ballads, and games.

Tonsils, vermiform appendices, uvulas, even ovaries are sacrificed because it is the fashion to get them cut out, and because the operations are highly profitable. The psychology of fashion becomes a pathology; for the cases have every air of being genuine: fashions, after all, are only induced epidemics, proving that epidemics can be induced by tradesmen, and therefore by doctors.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fashions, After All, Are Only Induced Epidemics

Notes:

  1. 1911, The Doctor’s Dilemma with Preface on Doctors by Bernard Shaw, Fashions and Epidemics, Start Page lxxii, Quote Page lxxii, Brentano’s, New York. (Verified with scans)

“What’s Your Opinion of Civilization?” “It’s a Good Idea. Somebody Ought To Start It”

George Bernard Shaw? Albert Schweitzer? Life Magazine? Mohandas Gandhi? Ferdinand Pecora? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some thinkers believe that humanity has not yet achieved an advanced society worthy of the name “civilization”. This notion has been expressed with the following dialog:

“What’s your idea of civilization?”
“It’s a good idea. Somebody ought to start it.”

This acerbic reply has been attributed to playwright George Bernard Shaw and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, Yet, I have been unable to find any solid citations. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared as a filler item in the humor magazine “Life” in March 1923. The creator was unidentified. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

“What’s your opinion of civilization?”
“It’s a good idea. Somebody ought to start it.”

The quip has been ascribed to a series of individuals over the decades including: lawyer Ferdinand Pecora in 1933, the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) in 1934, George Bernard Shaw in 1977, and Albert Schweitzer in 1988. In addition, a variant was attributed to Mohandas Gandhi in 1967. Yet, these citations occurred long after the joke was circulating; hence, the value of this evidence is low.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “What’s Your Opinion of Civilization?” “It’s a Good Idea. Somebody Ought To Start It”

Notes:

  1. 1923 March 29, Life, Volume 81, Issue 2108, (Filler item), Quote Page 33, Column 1, Life Publishing Company, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

“Are You Enjoying Yourself?” “Yes, But That’s the Only Thing I Am Enjoying”

Oscar Wilde? George Bernard Shaw? Ambrose Bierce? Charles Frederick Joy? Percival Christopher Wren? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you are attending a soporific party, and the host asks whether you are content you might reply with the following comically self-absorbed zinger attributed to the famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde:

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Wilde?”
“Enormously, Madam, there’s nothing else to enjoy.”

This same quip has been attributed to the prominent English playwright George Bernard Shaw:

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Shaw?”
“Yes—and that’s the only thing I am enjoying.”

Are either of these exchanges genuine? Would you please explore this topic

Quote Investigator: The evidence supporting an ascription to either Wilde or Shaw is weak.

The humor of this rejoinder rests on verbal ambiguity. The host’s inquiry “Are you enjoying yourself?” typically means “Are you experiencing enjoyment via conversation with fellow partygoers and via consuming the refreshments?”. The humorously contorted interpretation is “Are you deriving enjoyment from experiencing your own being?”

A matching joke appeared in 1883 in “The Times” newspaper of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which acknowledged the “Boston Transcript” of Boston, Massachusetts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Wrapped in his own originality: Young Goldy sat by himself in the corner, meditatively twirling his moustache, not noticing anybody and noticed by none. He was finally spied out by Brown, who approached and said, “You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself, Goldy, my boy.” “Oh, yes, I am,” replied Goldy in a languid manner: “enjoying myself hugely, old fellow; but kill me if I am enjoying any of these people, you know.”—Boston Transcript.

The identity of the joke creator was not given in “The Times”. It might be specified in the “Boston Transcript”, but QI has not yet seen the original context. Currently, the creator is anonymous. The same passage was reprinted in other newspapers in 1883 such as “The Times-Democrat” of New Orleans, Louisiana: 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Are You Enjoying Yourself?” “Yes, But That’s the Only Thing I Am Enjoying”

Notes:

  1. 1883 January 8, The Times, Midwinter Mirth, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1883 January 12, The Times-Democrat, All Sorts, Quote Page 3, Column 6, New Orleans, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)

This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Voltaire? Edward Young? George Bernard Shaw? Laird MacKenzie? Elsie McCormick? Bertrand Russell? Kurt Vonnegut? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several thinkers have offered an anguished explanation for the dangerously disordered state of the world. Here are four versions:

  • This world is the lunatic asylum for other planets.
  • Earth is a madhouse for the Universe
  • The other planets use Earth as an insane asylum.
  • Our world is bedlam for other worlds.

This notion has been credited to Mark Twain, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, George Bernard Shaw and others. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex topic; hence, QI will split the response into three articles; an article centered on Voltaire’s quotation is available here; an article centered on George Bernard Shaw’s quotation is available here; an overview article is presented below.

A thematic match occurred in a lengthy work by the English poet Edward Young. The poem was called “The Complaint, Or, Night-thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality”, and it was split into a sequence of numbered “Nights”. The expression appeared in “Night Nine” which was serialized in “The Scots Magazine” in 1747. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But what are we? You never heard of Man,
Or Earth; the Bedlam of the universe!
Where Reason, undiseas’d with you, runs mad,
And nurses Folly’s children as her own;

Voltaire wrote a story “Memnon ou La Sagesse Humaine” (“Memnon or Human Wisdom”) in the late 1740s and published it by 1749. The main character Memnon mentions Earth’s place in the universe. Here is an English translation from 1807: 2

“I am afraid,” said Memnon, “that our little terraqueous globe here is the mad-house of those hundred thousand millions of worlds, of which your Lordship does me the honour to speak.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

Notes:

  1. 1747 May, The Scots Magazine, Volume 9, Section: Poetical Essays, The Complaint, Night 9 and Last: The Consolation, (by Edward Young), Continuation of Complaint, Night 9, Start Page 221, Quote Page 225, Printed by W. Sands, A. Murray, and J. Cochran, Edinburgh, Scotland. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1807, Classic Tales: Serious and Lively, Volume 2, Voltaire, Story: Memnon the Philosopher; or Human Wisdom, Start Page 181, Quote Page 188 and 189, Printed and Published by and for John Hunt & Carew Reynell, London. (Google Books Full View) link

This Earth Is Used By Other Planets as a Lunatic Asylum

George Bernard Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Influential intellectuals have experienced cosmic despair while observing the behavior of humankind. Here are some statements I have heard attributed to Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw and others:

  • This planet is being used as an insane asylum by other planets.
  • Beings from other planets are using the Earth as a lunatic asylum.
  • The earth is the lunatic asylum of the Universe.
  • Earth is an insane asylum to which other planets deport their lunatics.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex question; hence, QI will split the response into multiple articles, and this article will center on George Bernard Shaw.

In September 1919 a letter from Judge Henry Neil appeared in several newspapers including “The Weekly Freeman” of Dublin, Ireland, the “The Daily Herald” of London England, 1 and the “New York Tribune” of New York, New York. 2

Neil was an exponent of government supplied pensions for widows with children, and he had communicated with George Bernard Shaw who also supported these pensions. Some U.S. states had passed legislation to implement payments, but some lawmakers resisted. Shaw believed that a willingness to provide pensions to “war widows and not to peace widows” was illogical. Inconsistencies of this type led Shaw to state the following according to Neil. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

“The longer I live, the more I am inclined to the belief that this earth is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This Earth Is Used By Other Planets as a Lunatic Asylum

Notes:

  1. 1919 September 11, The Daily Herald, Pensions for Mothers, Quote Page 2, Column 3, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1919 September 14, New York Tribune, Section 3: Financial Real Estate News, This Lunatic World, Letter To: Editor of The Tribune, Letter From: Judge Henry Neil, Letter Date: Monday, September 1, 1919, Quote Page 2, Column 6, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1919 September 6, The Weekly Freeman, Shaw’s Reply to Judge Neil, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Dublin, Ireland. (British Newspaper Archive)

A Life Spent in Making Mistakes Is Not Only More Honorable But More Useful Than a Life Spent Doing Nothing


Creator: George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and critic

Context: Shaw’s play “The Doctor’s Dilemma” was first staged in London in 1906. In 1911 Shaw published the text of drama together with a lengthy preface which included the following passage. Emphasis added: 1

Attention and activity lead to mistakes as well as to successes; but a life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. The one lesson that comes out of all our theorizing and experimenting is that there is only one really scientific progressive method and that is the method of trial and error.

Image Notes: Picture of shoe about to step on a banana from stevepb at Pixabay. George Bernard Shaw photographed circa 1909.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to the newsletter author who asked about this quotation because she wished to verify its accuracy before including it in an upcoming issue.

Notes:

  1. 1911, The Doctor’s Dilemma, with Preface on Doctors by Bernard Shaw, Section: Preface on Doctors, Quote Page lxxxv and lxxxvi, Brentano’s, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

A Drama Critic Leaves No Turn Unstoned

George Bernard Shaw? Catholic Standard and Times? Ethel Watts Mumford? Oliver Herford? Addison Mizner? Arthur Wimperis? Colette d’Arville? Ogden Nash? Diana Rigg?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw has been credited with a clever bit of wordplay concerning the role of a critic. The quip transforms the following venerable idiom describing a thorough search:

Leave no stone unturned

Shaw’s challenging plays sometimes received poor reviews, and according to legend he once responded:

A dramatic critic is a man who leaves no turn unstoned.

The word “turn” refers to the performance given by an individual on the stage. Would you please help me to trace this comical phrase?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw received credit for this expression from a journalist in London in 1930. See further below. Yet, no precise source was specified, and the joke had already been circulating for many years.

In 1899 the characters “Hi Tragerdy” and “Lowe Comerdy” exchanged lines about an unsuccessful vaudeville show encountering a hostile audience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Your experience in vaudeville, then, was not very pleasant?” Hi Tragerdy was saying.
“No,” replied Lowe Comerdy; “at Oshkosh they threw rocks at each one of us as we came on for our acts.”
“Pretty severe way of showing their disapproval.”
“Yes; in their efforts to impress us with their utter disgust they left no turn unstoned.”-Standard and Catholic Times

The above item appeared in multiple periodicals such as “The Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas; “The Daily Northwestern” of Oshkosh, Wisconsin; 2 “The Record-Union” of Sacramento, California; 3 and “Puck” of New York City. 4 The Texas newspaper acknowledged the “Standard and Catholic Times”. The other three acknowledged the “Catholic Standard and Times”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Drama Critic Leaves No Turn Unstoned

Notes:

  1. 1899 August 17, The Dallas Morning News, Light Things, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1899 August 29, The Daily Northwestern (The Oshkosh Northwestern), Short Notes, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1899 September 15, The Record-Union, One Bad Turn Deserves Another (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Sacramento, California. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1899 October 11, Puck, Volume 46, Issue 1170, One Bad Turn Deserved Another, Quote Page 15, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)