Category Archives: Mark Twain

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.

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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)

Some People Are Troubled by the Things in the Bible They Can’t Understand. The Things That Trouble Me Are the Things I Can Understand

Mark Twain? Hugh Elmer Brown? Joseph Fort Newton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Could you please help me to trace the following quotation credited to Mark Twain:

It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

The earliest citation I’ve seen is from the 1970s, but Twain died in 1910. Hence, I suspect that the ascription is inaccurate.

Quote Investigator: This quotation is difficult to research because it can be expressed in many different ways. At this time, QI has found no solid evidence that Mark Twain made this remark. No match was found during a search of the important “Twain Quotes” website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1 Also, no match was found in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The earliest citation located by QI occurred in the “Watertown Daily Times” of Watertown, New York in 1915. The freestanding quotation appeared in a box. Emphasis added to excerpts: 3

Mark Twain.
Some people are troubled by the things in the Bible they can’t understand.
The things that trouble me are the things I can understand.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched September 22, 2017)
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1915 February 6, Watertown Daily Times, The Quiet Hour, (Freestanding quotation in a box), Quote Page 12, Column 6, Watertown, New York. (GenealogyBank)

Never Attempt To Teach a Pig To Sing; It Wastes Your Time and Annoys the Pig

Mark Twain? Robert Heinlein? Paul Dickson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Teaching a pig to sing is a futile task that aggravates the porcine student according to a popular saying. Luminary Mark Twain and science fiction author Robert Heinlein have received credit for this adage. Would you please determine the accurate ascription and the original context?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 Robert Heinlein published “Time Enough for Love” featuring a main character, Lazarus Long, who appeared in several other novels by the author. Long was a colorful individualist who had been genetically selected to live for centuries. He delivered the adage during a discussion of avarice and deceit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have never swindled a man. At most I kept quiet and let him swindle himself. This does no harm, as a fool cannot be protected from his folly. If you attempt to do so, you will not only arouse his animosity but also you will be attempting to deprive him of whatever benefit he is capable of deriving from experience. Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Thus, the context was the difficulty and pointlessness of communicating a lesson that an individual is unwilling or unready to learn.

A different saying with a distinct meaning is sometimes confused with this adage. QI has a separate article on this topic: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1974 (Copyright 1973), Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long by Robert A. Heinlein, Section: Prelude II, Quote Page 31, A Berkley Medallion Book: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

George Bernard Shaw? Mark Twain? Abraham Lincoln? Cyrus Stuart Ching? J. Frank Condon? Richard P. Calhoon? N. H. Eagle? Cale Yarborough? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular metaphorical adage warns individuals not to engage with disreputable critics. Here are two versions:

  1. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.
  2. Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

This saying has been credited to a triumvirate of quotation superstars: Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and George Bernard Shaw. I doubt these ascriptions because I haven’t seen any solid citations. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.

The adage evolved in a multistep multi-decade process. An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776. QI has a separate article about that saying: Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.

In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated; nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.

The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.

The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by QI appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The ellipsis is in the original text: 2

A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.

“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.'”

Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a pre-existing item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1872 February 3, The Cambria Freeman, Communication, (Letter to the Editor from J. Frank Condon; letter date Jan 29, 1872), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com and Chronicling America)
  2. 1948 January 3, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 220 Number 27, The Two-Fisted Wisdom of Ching by Beverly Smith, Start Page 15, Quote Page 58, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis Indiana. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)

Put All Your Eggs in One Basket, and Then Watch That Basket

Mark Twain? Andrew Carnegie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proverbial wisdom tells us never to put all our eggs in one basket, but a humorous inversion of that advice has been ascribed to the renowned humorist Mark Twain and the business titan Andrew Carnegie. Who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: On June 23, 1885 Andrew Carnegie addressed the students of Curry Commercial College of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He gave pungent advice to the learners which included a repudiation of the traditional adage about baskets and eggs. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The concerns which fail are those which have scattered their capital, which means that they have scattered their brains also. They have investments in this, or that, or the other, here, there and everywhere. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. I tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.” Look round you and take notice; men who do that do not often fail. It is easy to watch and carry the one basket. It is trying to carry too many baskets that breaks most eggs in this country. He who carries three baskets must put one on his head, which is apt to tumble and trip him up. One fault of the American business man is lack of concentration.

The text above was from a collection of speeches and essays published by Carnegie in 1902. The date and location of the speech were specified in the book. Contemporaneous news accounts also mentioned the event. For example, on August 19, 1885 “The Yonkers Statesman” of Yonkers, New York described the talk under the title “Success in Business”. The phrasing varied: “I tell you” versus “We tell you”, but the adage was identical: 2

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. We tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.”

Mark Twain heard about Carnegie’s remark, and he was intrigued enough to record it in one of his notebooks. Later, he employed the reversed adage as a chapter epigraph in his tale titled “Pudd’nhead Wilson”. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order including detailed citations for Twain. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1902, The Empire of Business by Andrew Carnegie, The Road to Business Success: A Talk to Young Men, (From an address to Students of the Curry Commercial College, Pittsburg, June 23, 1885), Start Page 3, Quote page 17, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. (HathiTrust) link
  2. 1885 August 19, The Yonkers Statesman, Success in Business, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Yonkers, New York. (Old Fulton)

There Is No God, and Harriet Martineau Is His Prophet

Prophet: Harriet Martineau? William Tweed? John Tyndall? Auguste Comte? Robert G. Ingersoll? Karl Marx? Charles Darwin? Herbert Spencer? Henry George Atkinson? Paul Dirac? Felix Adler?
Critic: Mark Twain? Douglas William Jerrold? George Grote? J. P. Jacobsen? Isaac M. Wise? Wolfgang Pauli?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent physicist Paul Dirac was hostile toward religion, and sometimes he would lecture his colleagues on the topic. One fellow scientist responded with a humorous summary of Dirac’s metaphysical position:

There is no God and Dirac is His prophet.

Do you know who crafted this expression? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: Substantive evidence indicates that physicist Wolfgang Pauli coined the statement above, but this template has an extensive history, and many different names have appeared in analogous phrases in the past.

The earliest template matches located by QI referred to Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson who together published a controversial work titled “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development” in 1851. 1 Contemporaries believed that the duo was espousing atheism, and both faced tremendous criticism; in April 1851 a periodical about mesmerism printed a statement referring to Atkinson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

A celebrated wit declares the great religious view of the book to be, There is no God, and Mr. Atkinson is his prophet.—Zoist.

In July 1851 a piece in “The Worcestershire Chronicle” of Worcestershire, England discussed an essay that analyzed the pair’s book. The following jest was aimed at Martineau: 3

Two valuable essays on “The History of Logic” and “Primitive Alphabets” are followed by one on “Materialism,” in which Miss Martineau and her tutor, “Henry George Atkinson, F.G.S.,” are treated to a little commonsense criticism. Her theory—so ably epitomised by a popular writer of the present day—”that there is no God, and that Miss Martineau is his prophet,” finds no quarter at the hands of the talented reviewer…

The “popular writer” was probably the dramatist Douglas William Jerrold as stated in a September 1851 newspaper item. Additional selected citations in chronological order appear below. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1851, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development by Henry George Atkinson and Harriet Martineau, Published by Josiah P. Mendum, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1851 April, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology & Mesmerism and Their Applications to Human Welfare, Number 33, XVII: The Fire-away Style of Philosophy briefly Examined and Illustrated by Anti-Glorioso, Footnote, Start Page 65, Quote Page 67, Hippolyte Bailliere, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1851 July 23, Worcestershire Chronicle, Literary Notices: The Church of England Quarterly Review, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Worcestershire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

It Is Wiser To Find Out Than To Suppose

Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Apocryphal?

twain07Dear Quote Investigator: I would like to use the following adage during a presentation to a large group:

It is wiser to find out than to suppose.

I plan to credit Mark Twain, but I know that if I am wrong it will be very embarrassing because the entire point of the remark will be undermined. Would you please help me to replace a supposition with a fact? Can you find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a small compilation titled “More Maxims of Mark” containing quotations ascribed to Twain that was privately printed as a limited edition in November 1927 by Merle Johnson who was a rare book collector. Johnson published the first careful bibliography of Twain’s works in 1910 shortly after the writer’s death. Twain scholars believe that the sayings compiled by Johnson in this book are genuine.

A friend of QI’s accessed volume number 14 of 50 in the Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University and verified that the adage was printed on page number 8. Below is the saying together with the two succeeding entries. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

IT IS WISER TO FIND OUT THAN TO SUPPOSE.
IN LITERATURE IMITATIONS DO NOT IMITATE.
IT IS BEST TO READ THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE WE PRAY FOR RAIN.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 8, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified on paper; thanks to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike)

Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger

Mark Twain? Abbie Hoffman? Roy F. Nichols? George McKinnon? Aardvark Magazine? Graffito?

cow07Dear Quote Investigator: The following has often been ascribed to the famous humorist Mark Twain and the 1960s-era political activist Abbie Hoffman:

Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.

Apologies for offensiveness. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said or wrote this statement. 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

The words were ascribed to Abbie Hoffman by a speaker at his funeral in 1989. The detailed citation is given further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in October 1965 in “The Daily Collegian”, a student newspaper at Pennsylvania State University. An article discussed the revivification of a student publication called “Bottom of the Birdcage” which took inspiration from another periodical. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Birdcage’s newly-adopted theme, borrowed from Aardvark magazine, is “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.” Each issue will have something to offend each member of the family.

“Aardvark” magazine was a Chicago humor journal that started out at Roosevelt University. Based on the excerpt above, the saying probably appeared in that magazine before October 1965; however, QI has not examined issues of “Aardvark”. Also, it was conceivable that more than one humor magazine using the name “Aardvark” existed in the time period.

QI believes that the expression evolved over time, and interesting precursors appeared many years earlier.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched December 3, 2016) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1965 October 19, The Daily Collegian (Pennsylvania State University student paper), Ad Hoc Resurrects ‘Bottom of Birdcage’, Page 4, Column 6, University Park, Pennsylvania. (Google News Archive, ActivePaper Archive Full View)

If You Don’t Read the Newspaper You Are Uninformed, If You Do Read the Newspaper You Are Misinformed

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Fuller? Orville Hubbard? Ezra Taft Benson? Apocryphal?

twain11Dear Quote Investigator: A cynical attitude toward the media is widespread today, but this is not a new development. Supposedly, Mark Twain made the following remark:

If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

Are these really the words of the famous humorist?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said this. It is not listed on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1 In addition, QI has been unable find an instance in key compilations like “Mark Twain Speaking” edited by Paul Fatout 2 and “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 3

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a message posted in 2000 to an international discussion system named Usenet within a newsgroup called israel.francophones. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 4

As Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched December 3, 2016) link
  2. 1976, Mark Twain Speaking, Edited by Paul Fatout, Published by University of Iowa Press, Iowa City. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. November 2, 2000, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: israel.francophones, From: tsip…@my-deja.com, Subject: Reagir/Presse. (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 28, 2016)

Wagner’s Music Is Really Much Better Than It Sounds

Mark Twain? Bill Nye? Ambrose Bierce? Punch Magazine?

orchestra09Dear Quote Investigator: Richard Wagner was prominent German composer who created the landmark four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). A comically incongruous remark about his efforts has been attributed to two famous American humorists Mark Twain and Bill Nye:

Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

Do you know who crafted this jibe?

Quote Investigator: The earliest partial match known to QI appeared in August 1887. Several newspapers such as “The Wichita Daily Beacon” 1 of Wichita, Kansas and “The Jackson Citizen Patriot” 2 of Jackson, Michigan printed a column called “Bill Nye’s Information Bureau”. The Wichita paper acknowledged “The New York World” as the initial source. The column began with a letter from “Truth Seeker” who posed several questions for Nye including the following:

What is the peculiarity of classical music, and how can one distinguish it?

Nye responded with a version of the quip that targeted a class of music instead of an individual composer. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

The peculiar characteristic of classical music is that it is really so much better than it sounds.

In November 1889 “The Indianapolis News” of Indianapolis, Indiana pointed to an unnamed Philadelphia paper while crediting Nye with a version of the joke targeting Wagner: 3

Says a Philadelphia newspaper: “Bill Nye on his recent visit to this city to lecture called upon a well-known music lover, and while there was asked to write in an autograph album. He did so, and among other things wrote the following: ‘Wagner’s music, I have been informed, is really much better than it sounds.'”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1887 August 4, The Wichita Daily Beacon, His Information Bureau: Bill Nye Takes a Man into His Confidence and Educates Him (From the New York World), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1887 August 11, The Jackson Citizen Patriot, Bill Nye’s Bureau: He Takes a Stranger in and Educates Him, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Jackson, Michigan. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1889 November 22, The Indianapolis News, “SCRAPS”, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)