Tired of Buttoning and Unbuttoning

Englishman? Frenchman? Lord Byron? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The quotidian activities of life induce lassitude and even despondency in some people. I have heard that an eighteenth century suicide note placed blame upon the following perpetual exercise:

I weary of all this buttoning and unbuttoning.

Is this tale genuine or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: In 1758 “The Public Advertiser” of London printed a piece titled “On Life” by G. S. that highlighted the stupefying task of manipulating buttons. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Life as a repetition of the same dull, insipid routine of insignificant actions of buttoning and unbuttoning, of sleeping and waking, of eating, and hunger returning, and these ditto, ditto repeated…

The article recommended spiritual faith and thoughts of Heaven to overcome unhappiness.

In 1792 a collection of anecdotes and wit published in London titled “Scrapeana: Fugitive Miscellany” edited by John Croft included a claim about a suicide note. The name of the deceased was omitted: 2

Colonel _______ shot himself, and left a paper on the table expressing that he was grown weary of life, and tired of buttoning and unbuttoning, adding this verse:

The very best remedy after all,
Is a good resolution and a ball.

The “ball” was probably a reference to early bullets which were spherical in that time period. QI does not know whether this story was based on an actual event or simply a morbid joke.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tired of Buttoning and Unbuttoning

Notes:

  1. 1786 October 23, The Public Advertiser, For the Public Advertiser: On Life by G. S., Quote Page 1, Column 3 and 4, London, England. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1792, Scrapeana: Fugitive Miscellany, Editor: John Croft, Quote Page 97, Sans Souci, London. (Google Books Full View) link

He, Who Will Not Reason, Is a Bigot; He, Who Cannot, Is a Fool; and He, Who Dares Not, Is a Slave

Lord Byron? William Drummond? Marguerite Gardiner? Andrew Carnegie? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite quotation is a brilliant tripartite observation about rationality. Here are two versions:

(1) Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.

(2) He, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; and he, who dares not, is a slave.

This saying has confusingly been ascribed to two very different individuals: romantic poet Lord Byron and Scottish philosopher William Drummond. Would you please untangle this attribution?

Quote Investigator: In 1805 William Drummond published “Academical Questions”, and the target quotation appeared in the final lines of the preface. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Prejudice may be trusted to guard the outworks for a short space of time, while Reason slumbers in the citadel; but if the latter sink into a lethargy, the former will quickly erect a standard for herself. Philosophy, wisdom, and liberty, support each other; he, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; and he, who dares not, is a slave.

Lord Byron should not receive credit for this saying. There are two potential sources of confusion. Byron’s major poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” has usually been published together with notes. One of the notes for the fourth canto contains the quotation above. The words are credited to William Drummond, but careless readers may have reassigned the statement directly to Byron.

The other possible wellspring of confusion is a book by Lord Byron’s friend Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington. She described at length her conversations with the poet, and she stated that Byron recommended Drummond’s works while employing the quotation under analysis. Byron credited Drummond when he used the line, but careless individuals may have incorrectly credited Byron.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He, Who Will Not Reason, Is a Bigot; He, Who Cannot, Is a Fool; and He, Who Dares Not, Is a Slave

Notes:

  1. 1805, Academical Questions by the Right Honourable William Drummond Volume 1, Section: Preface, Start Page iii, Quote Page xv, Printed by W. Bulmer, and Company, London; Sold by Messrs. Cadell and Davies, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

A Little Nonsense Now and Then is Relished by the Wisest Men

Roald Dahl? Willy Wonka? Gene Wilder? Horace? Lord Byron? Horace Walpole? Hudibras? Samuel Butler? Anonymous?

dahl08Dear Quote Investigator: The 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was an extraordinary confection. The candy-maker Wonka played by Gene Wilder used numerous literary quotations while leading a tour of his factory. One scene took place in a room with geese that produced enormous golden eggs of chocolate. Each egg was analyzed by an “eggdicator” to determine whether it was a good egg or a bad egg. One parent on the tour considered the situation ridiculous, and Wonka replied to his skepticism with a quotation: 1

Grandpa Joe: It’s an educated eggdicator.
Henry Salt: It’s a lot of nonsense.
Willy Wonka: A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Would you please trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: The popular English author Roald Dahl published the children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in 1964. Dahl also wrote the screenplay for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” based on his book. The line spoken by Wonka in the movie is not in the 1964 book, but Dahl included it in the 1972 sequel called “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the newspaper “The New-York Mirror” in 1823. The reviewer of a new melodrama called “Undine, or the Spirit of the Waters” did not consider it a serious work, but he enjoyed it and recommended it. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

As a drama, it is not of the family of legitimates; but what then, who has not experienced the truth of that good old couplet, that

“A little nonsense, now and then,
Is relished by the wisest men!”

The reviewer disclaimed credit for the expression by labelling it an “old couplet”; hence, earlier citations probably exist. Nevertheless, quotation expert Nigel Rees deserves kudos for placing this valuable instance in his compilation “The Best Guide to Humorous Quotations”. 3

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Little Nonsense Now and Then is Relished by the Wisest Men

Notes:

  1. 1971, Movie: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Screenplay by Roald Dahl, Based on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl, Released by Paramount Pictures, Quote Location: 1 hour 20 minutes of 1 hour 39 minutes. (Amazon Video)
  2. 1823 December 6, The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette, The Drama: Undine, Quote Page 151, Column 1, Published by George P. Morris, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 2011, The Best Guide to Humorous Quotations by Nigel Rees, (Updated, expanded, and revised version of “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations”, 2003), Publication Date: September 6, 2011, Topic: Nonsense, Kindle Location: 14964, Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC. (Kindle Ebook)