To My Embarrassment I Was Born in Bed with a Lady

Mark Twain? Groucho Marx? Wilson Mizner? Sydney J. Harris? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A funny man once said that he was embarrassed to discover that his behavior had always been scandalous; he had been born in bed with a lady. This line has been connected to Mark Twain, Groucho Marx, and Wilson Mizner. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI occurred in the 1930 book “Beds” by Groucho Marx. One section contained letters sent by Groucho in response to questions. The ellipsis in the following appeared in the original text: 1

It is Wilson Mizner, and not I, who recalls his embarrassment when he first came into the world, and found a woman in bed with him. . . . I wasn’t embarrassed.

Thus, Groucho credited the playwright, rogue, and wit Wilson Mizner. This citation is listed in the valuable reference “The Yale Book of Quotations” edited by Fred R. Shapiro. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading To My Embarrassment I Was Born in Bed with a Lady

Notes:

  1. 1976 (Copyright 1930 on original edition), Beds by Groucho Marx, Quote Page 70 and 71, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Wilson Mizner, Quote Page 526, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Mark Twain? Betty Carpenter? Bumper Sticker? Jake Ford? Bill Quraishi? John Wallner? Robin Williams? Barry Levinson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of sayings spuriously ascribed to Mark Twain seems to grow every year. Here are two versions of a remark credited to the famous son of Hannibal, Missouri:

  • Politicians and diapers should be changed often.
  • Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed regularly and for the same reason.

The Wikiquote webpage for Twain contends that the statement is misattributed. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain who died in 1910 said or wrote this joke. It does not appear on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

Several researchers have explored this topic, and the earliest pertinent citations previously known occurred in 1992. QI has made incremental progress by uncovering a match in October 1987. “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Ohio printed a collection of short pieces about electoral candidates such as Betty Carpenter who was running for a position on the Fort Thomas Council. Carpenter made the following comment containing the core of the joke. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

This has been a quiet campaign as far as issues go, but I think politicians, like diapers, should be changed regularly. New faces bring fresh new ideas and perspectives to the government.

Carpenter may have crafted this saying, but QI hypothesizes that it was already in circulation before 1987. Yet, it is difficult to trace because the phrasing of the quip is highly variable.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched October 17, 2018) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1987 October 25, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Section: Special Report: Election Guide 1987, Fort Thomas Council: Betty Carpenter, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

Eat Whatever You Like and Let Them Fight It Out Inside

Mark Twain? Lyman Beecher Stowe? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following eccentric dietary advice has been attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain:

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

I question whether Twain said this because no one provides a solid citation. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Mark Twain died in 1910, and the earliest match known to QI occurred in an anecdote told by Lyman Beecher Stowe in 1932 to members of the Mark Twain Library and Memorial Commission. Stowe knew Twain because his grandparents lived next door to the luminary in Hartford, Connecticut. “The Hartford Courant” newspaper reported the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI. 1

Of the many typical stories from the rich store of Mark Twain’s life, one of the most delightful told by Mr. Stowe was the following advice from Mark Twain, asked on his seventieth birthday to disclose a set of rules for longevity: “Never smoke more than one cigar at a time. Never, never smoke while sleeping. Eat whatever you want and let ’em fight it out among themselves inside. Sit up as late as you can get anybody to stay with you, and stay in bed as long as anybody will let you.”

There is strong evidence that Twain did employ the jokes about smoking in 1905. However, QI has not yet found any evidence linking Twain to the comical remark about eating during his lifetime. Therefore, the accuracy of the ascription to Twain depends on the reliability of Lyman Beecher Stowe’s memory.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Eat Whatever You Like and Let Them Fight It Out Inside

Notes:

  1. 1932 December 2, The Hartford Courant, Mark Twain Recalled On Anniversary: Lyman Beecher Stowe Relates Anecdotes of Writer and His Friends at Memorial, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)

I Have Made It a Rule Never To Smoke More Than One Cigar at a Time

Mark Twain? Elbert Hubbard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain followed two thoughtful guidelines regarding smoking:

  • Never smoke more than one cigar at a time.
  • Never smoke while sleeping.

Would you please determine when he enunciated these rules?

Quote Investigator: In 1905 Mark Twain celebrated his seventieth birthday at the popular New York restaurant Delmonico’s. The participants delivered numerous speeches and poems lauding Twain as reported in the “New York Tribune”. The famous humorist addressed the subject of his longevity: 1

I have achieved my seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else. I will offer here, as a sound maxim, this: that we can’t reach old age by another man’s road.

I will now teach, offering my way of life to whomsoever desires to commit suicide by the scheme which has enabled me to beat the doctor and the hangman for seventy years.

Twain outlined his dietary regimen and then discussed smoking. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time. I do not know just when I began to smoke, I only know that it was in my father’s lifetime, and that I was discreet. He passed from this life early in 1847, when I was a shade past eleven; ever since then I have smoked publicly. As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake.

Twain employed these two jokes and helped to popularize them, but instances occurred before 1905.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Have Made It a Rule Never To Smoke More Than One Cigar at a Time

Notes:

  1. 1905 December 6, New-York Tribune, Dinner for Mark Twain: To Mark 70th Birthday, Quote Page 7, Column 3, New York. (Newspapers_com)

I Have a Higher and Grander Standard of Principle. Washington Could Not Lie. I Can Lie, But I Won’t

Creator: Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), famous humorist

Context: Understanding the humor in the following passage requires familiarity with the cherry tree legend. A young Washington received a hatchet as a gift and impetuously chopped down a cherry tree owned by his father. When the future president was confronted he said “I cannot tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” In December 1871 Twain delivered a speech that was transcribed and printed in “The Chicago Tribune”. Twain discussed lying and compared himself to Washington: 1

A reporter has to lie a little, of course, or they would discharge him. That is the only drawback to the profession. That is why I left it. [Laughter] I am different from Washington; I have a higher and grander standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie, but I won’t. [Prolonged laughter.] Reporting is fascinating, but then it is distressing to have to lie so. Lying is bad—lying is very bad. Every individual in this house knows that by experience. I think that for a man to tell a lie when he can’t make anything by it, is wrong. [Laughter.]

Image Notes: Picture of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze, circa 1851. Portrait of Mark Twain from “Appleton’s Journal” on July 4, 1874. Both images accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

  1. 1871 December 20, The Chicago Tribune, “Mark Twain”: Sketch of the Great American Humorist’s Lecture, Delivered in the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Chicago, Illinois. (“fascinating” is misspelled “facinating” in the original) (Newspapers_com)

I Never Argue with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Roger Branigin? Mark Twain? Charles Brownson? Irving Leibowitz? William I. Greener Jr.? H. L. Mencken? Benjamin Franklin?

Dear Quote Investigator: If a newspaper editor or publisher dislikes a viewpoint you are advocating then you may have to endure a long series of negative articles. The following three statements express this notion:

  • Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel
  • I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
  • Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.

Many famous wordsmiths have been credited with this saying, e.g., Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken. I become very suspicious when so many luminaries receive credit. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest citation located by QI appeared in “The Indianapolis News” of Indiana in 1962. Attorney Roger Branigin delivered a speech to more than 600 listeners at a conference. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Branigin, active for years in Democratic politics and an aspirant for the nomination for governor in 1955, said in referring to newspaper publishers, “I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

Branigin’s policy of avoiding arguments with news people may have helped him. He became the governor of Indiana a few years later in 1965, and he served for one four-year term. Currently, Branigin is the leading candidate for creator of this saying although there is evidence that others used it in roughly the same timeframe.

Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken had all died before 1962; there is no substantive evidence that they employed the saying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Argue with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Notes:

  1. 1962 January 15, The Indianapolis News, Economy, Precision Urged on Pressmen, Quote Page 17, Column 7 and 8, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

The Secret of Getting Ahead Is Getting Started

Mark Twain? Agatha Christie? Sally Berger? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: To overcome procrastination one must initiate a task. Although this is straightforward advice it is an arcane approach according to the following adage:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

The famed humorist Mark Twain and the popular mystery writer Agatha Christie have both received credit for his formula. Yet, I have not found any solid citations. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 a partial match occurred within a newspaper advertisement for a bank in Coshocton, Ohio which was encouraging readers to open an account and start saving money. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Half the game of getting ahead is getting started. Join today, and have a lump sum, plus a pleased feeling, early next December.

The next week the same passage appeared in an advertisement for a bank in Massillon, Ohio. 2

In 1968 an exact match appeared in the compilation “20,000 Quips and Quotes” edited by Evan Esar. No attribution was specified: 3

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

QI believes that the statement evolved over time and the earliest instances were anonymous. The attributions to Mark Twain and Agatha Christie occurred late and were not substantive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Secret of Getting Ahead Is Getting Started

Notes:

  1. 1923 December 9, The Coshocton Tribune, (Advertisement for Commercial National Bank of Coshocton, Ohio), Quote Page 3, Column 6, Coshocton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1923 December 15, The Evening Independent, (Advertisement for The First Savings & Loan Company in Massillon, Ohio), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Massillon, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Topic: Beginning, Quote Page 71, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

If I Cannot Swear in Heaven I Shall Not Stay There

Mark Twain? Albert Bigelow Paine? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There are a set of statements attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain about allowable behaviors in heaven:

  • If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.
  • If I cannot drink bourbon in heaven, then I shall not go.
  • If I can’t smoke cigars in heaven, I won’t stay there long.

Did Twain really make any of these remarks?

Quote Investigator: After Mark Twain’s death in 1910 Albert Bigelow Paine who was his friend became his literary executor with access to his papers and notebooks. In 1912 Paine published an important multi-volume biography of Twain.

In 1935 Paine published “Mark Twain’s Notebook” which included observations, ideas, and diary-like material from Twain’s collection of notebooks. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If all men were rich, all men would be poor.

Let us swear while we may, for in heaven it will not be allowed.

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.

If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.

Twain wrote down notions such as those above in his notebooks because he felt they might be useful later while composing a speech, essay, or story. Paine selected items from the notebooks for the 1935 publication.

QI has not yet found comments about smoking or drinking that match the template of the remark about swearing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If I Cannot Swear in Heaven I Shall Not Stay There

Notes:

  1. 1935, Mark Twain’s Notebook by Mark Twain, Edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, Chapter 31: In Vienna, Quote Page 345, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)

The More I Know About People, the Better I Like Dogs

Mark Twain? Madame de Sévigné? Madame Roland? Alphonse de Lamartine? Alphonse Toussenel? Louise de la Rameé? Alfred D’Orsay? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular expression combines disappointment with humanity together with praise for canines. Here are four versions:

  • The more I see of men, the more I like dogs.
  • The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.
  • The more I know about people, the better I like my dog.
  • The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.

These words have been attributed to Mark Twain and Alphonse Toussenel. Would you please explore the statement’s provenance?

Quote Investigator: Top quotation researcher Ralph Keyes remarked on the long history of ascriptions to a variety of famous French figures: 1

They include the inimitable letter-writer Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné, 1626-1696), the revolutionary writer Madame Roland (Marie-Jeanne Philipon, 1754-1793), author-politician Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), author Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885), and author Louise de la Rameé (1839-1908).

Yet, QI and other researchers have not yet found any published evidence in the 1600s or 1700s; hence, the linkage to Madame de Sévigné and Madame Roland is currently unsupported.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires” in 1822, and the attribution was anonymous. Passages in French are followed by English translations. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Nous venons de recevoir le Miroir de la Somme, il contient les niaiseries suivantes: Une dame disait l’autre jour: plus je connais les hommes, mieux j’aime les chiens.

We just received the Mirror of the Somme, it contains the following nonsense: A lady said the other day: the more I know men, the better I like dogs.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The More I Know About People, the Better I Like Dogs

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 47, 48 and 283, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1822 November 13, Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires: Journal de l’industrie, des mœurs, des théâtres et des beaux arts, Supplément, Mélanges, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Lyons, France. (Google Books Full View) link

Recipe To Create a Publisher: Take an Idiot Man from a Lunatic Asylum . . .

Mark Twain? Frank Nelson Doubleday? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain apparently held a very low opinion of book publishers. He suggested that publishers could be created via a multigenerational combination of individuals from lunatic asylums. Could you please help me find a citation for this sentiment?

Quote Investigator: In 1897 Frank Nelson Doubleday and Samuel McClure cofounded the publishing company Doubleday & McClure. The new firm required a stable of successful authors; hence, Doubleday traveled to Europe to attempt to recruit luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. He visited Twain in a hotel in Vienna, Austria, and the conversation contained comical barbs such as the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He told me, among other things, that he had a perfect recipe for making a modern American publisher. “Take an idiot man from a lunatic asylum and marry him to an idiot woman, and the fourth generation of this connection should be a good publisher from the American point of view. I had a perfect publisher myself, as you know,” he said. “His name was Frank Bliss, and thank God, he is dead and gone to hell.”

In 1928 Frank Doubleday privately printed “A Few Indiscreet Recollections” and the text above was included. The slim volume was limited to fifty-seven copies, and the recipients were described with the phrase “Indulgent Relatives”.

Doubleday died in 1934. Many years later, in 1972 the privately printed material was released under the title “The Memoirs of a Publisher”. The 1972 edition included a footnote slyly pointing out that Twain’s lacerating description would ultimately apply to himself: 2

* Clemens himself later became a publisher.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Recipe To Create a Publisher: Take an Idiot Man from a Lunatic Asylum . . .

Notes:

  1. 1928 December, A Few Indiscreet Recollections by Frank Nelson Doubleday (Author not listed in pamphlet), Privately Printed, Not Published, For Indulgent Relatives, Written in 1926, Edition Limited to Fifty-Seven Copies, Quote Page 16, No publisher. (Verified with scans from Peter E. Blau)
  2. 1972, The Memoirs of a Publisher by F. N. Doubleday (Frank Nelson Doubleday), Chapter 10: Mark Twain and His Ways, Start Page 83, Quote Page 84, Doubleday & Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)