These Pictures Are Not On Trial. It Is the Visitors Who Are On Trial

Gerald Stanley Lee? F. W. Macdonald? Thomas Vezey Strong? Heywood Broun? Eugene O’Neill? Vincent Starrett? Florentine doorkeeper? Parisian Curator?

Dear Quote Investigator: Critics and tastemakers have proclaimed that some paintings, books, and plays are masterpieces. Yet, the general populace is not always able to perceive the quality of these works. An anecdote set in a museum highlights this divergence:

A visitor to the Louvre in Paris viewed the renowned Mona Lisa and stated loudly, “That painting is nothing special. I am unimpressed.” A curator who was standing nearby said, “That painting is not on trial; you are on trial.”

A similar tale has been told about a teacher with skeptical pupils who were assigned the task of reading the classic novel “Moby Dick”.

“This novel is boring; it contains too many details about whale hunting,” insisted a student. The teacher replied, “Hermann Melville and his tour de force are not on trial. You students are on trial.”

Would you please explore the history of this family of anecdotes?

Quote Investigator: A precursor in the religious domain appeared within an article by clergyman Gerald Stanley Lee in the New York periodical “The Christian Union” in 1890. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Bible is not on trial before the young men of this century. It is we who are on trial. Any man who stands off and tries to measure the Bible with the petty yard-stick of his criticisms is unconsciously measuring himself, and the more he tries the smaller his measure is. It is not the Bible that needs young men, but young men that need the Bible.

An instance of the secular anecdote appeared in 1904 in the Boston, Massachusetts periodical “Congregationalist and Christian World”. The tale was attributed to preacher F. W. Macdonald. The punchline was delivered by an anonymous Florentine doorkeeper: 2

F. W. Macdonald, Kipling’s Wesleyan preacher uncle, tells an apt story having analogical and homiletical aptness for those talking of the Bible’s permanent worth to men. “Are these masterpieces?” said a tourist in a Florentine gallery. “I must admit that I don’t see much in them myself.” Said the reserved doorkeeper, “These pictures are not on trial. It is the visitors who are on trial.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading These Pictures Are Not On Trial. It Is the Visitors Who Are On Trial

Notes:

  1. 1890 May 1, The Christian Union, Volume 41, Issue 18, For the “Live Young Man” by Gerald Stanley Lee, Quote Page 647, Column 1, New York, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1904 February 13, Congregationalist and Christian World, Volume 89, Issue 7, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 232, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

I Don’t Like Spinach, and I’m Glad I Don’t, Because If I Liked It I’d Eat It, and I’d Just Hate It

Clarence Darrow? George Sand? Charles Paul de Kock? Henry Monnier? Eddie Drake? Heywood Broun? Irvin S. Cobb? Steven Pinker? Anonymous?

Disliked Food: Spinach? Carp Head? Eels? Oysters? Lobster? Lettuce? Green Peas? Beets?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous defense lawyer Clarence Darrow apparently had a very low opinion of the vegetable favored by the cartoon character Popeye. Darrow has been credited with the following comical tantrum:

I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just hate it.

Would you please explore the history of this logically twisted humor?

Quote Investigator: During 1834 and 1835 the prominent French author George Sand wrote her thoughts down in a private journal while she conducted a tempestuous love affair with the poet Alfred de Musset. Many years later in 1904 the periodical “La Renaissance Latine” published material from the journal including the following statement about épinards (spinach). Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . je serais bien fâchée d’aimer les épinards, car si je les aimais, j’en mangerais, et je ne les peux souffrir.

In 1929 an English translation appeared under the title “The Intimate Journal of George Sand”. The text showed clearly that the remark about spinach was already in circulation circa 1835, and Sand disclaimed credit: 2

Here is some logic I heard the other day. I’m glad I don’t care for spinach, for if I liked it I should eat it, and I cannot bear spinach.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Don’t Like Spinach, and I’m Glad I Don’t, Because If I Liked It I’d Eat It, and I’d Just Hate It

Notes:

  1. 1904 July to September, La Renaissance Latine, Volume 3, Encore George Sand et Musset, Start Page 5, Quote Page 18, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1976 (Copyright 1929), The Intimate Journal of George Sand by George Sand, Translation and Notes by Marie Jenney Howe, Section: Journal of George Sand to Alfred de Musset, Quote Page 34, (Reprint of 1929 edition from Williams & Norgate, London), Haskell House Publishers, New York. (Verified with hard copy)

Posterity Is As Likely To Be Wrong As Anybody Else

Heywood Broun? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular embrace or condemnation of an artwork is often transitory. Artists and critics speculate about the judgement of posterity, but that future evaluation may be just as flawed as the current viewpoint. I love this insightful remark:

Posterity is as likely to be wrong as anybody else.

Do you know who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: In April 1924 the influential journalist and drama critic Heywood Broun published the following in his syndicated column. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

Whenever an artist thinks that the community does not sufficiently appreciate him, he takes an appeal to posterity. I wonder where this notion comes from, that posterity is equipped with superior judgment and wisdom? Just how does it get that way? Posterity is as likely to be wrong as anybody else.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Posterity Is As Likely To Be Wrong As Anybody Else

Notes:

  1. 1924 April 2, Oakland Tribune, It Seems To Me by Heywood Broun, Quote Page 16, Column 7, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)