I Take My Only Exercise Acting as a Pallbearer to My Friends Who Exercise

Mark Twain? Chauncey Depew? Ring Lardner? William Allen White? Winston Churchill? Big Jim Watson? Joseph Hodges Choate? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: New Year’s resolutions often feature plans for more exercise. Mark Twain was once asked if he engaged in exercise, and he supposedly said:

I take my only exercise acting as a pallbearer at the funerals of my friends who exercise regularly.

But this same joke is also credited to Chauncey Depew, a United States Senator and renowned after-dinner speaker, who reportedly said:

I get my exercise acting as a pallbearer to my friends who exercise.

While searching I found that this quip was phrased in many other different ways. Could you determine if Twain, Depew, or someone else originated this funny saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Mark Twain made this remark. In 1905 Harper’s Weekly reprinted a speech given by Twain at his 70th Birthday party. In the passage below Twain expressed his dislike of exercise. But he did not employ the expression under investigation. Nevertheless, the hostility he evinced may have caused later individuals to assume that clever statements on this topic should be reassigned to Twain. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any. Exercise is loathsome. And it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; I was always tired. (Laughter.) But let another person try my way, and see where he will come out.

I desire now to repeat and emphasize that maxim: We can’t reach old age by another man’s road. My habits protect my life, but they would assassinate you.

A precursor of the quip appeared in 1922 in an article by the popular humorist Ring Lardner titled “My Week In Cuba” that was published in the magazine Cosmopolitan. Lardner’s remark included the notion of obtaining exercise by acting as a pallbearer, and his words were used in the caption of an illustration for the article which is shown below. In the following passage taxis are referred to as Flivingos: 2

We also visited the new country club and golf course which is patronized chiefly by Americans. As yet golf has not been generally took up by the natives who get plenty of exercise dodging Flivingos and acting as pall bearers.

In 1925 a version of the joke was printed in a syndicated news article about William Allen White who was a prominent American newspaper editor. White told the quip to his interviewer, but the phrasing he used differed from the common modern version. This key citation was located by Andrew Steinberg: 3

“You see in me the rocking chair expert of the Neosho Valley,” White says. “I have won every cup offered for long distance rocking chair prowess, and I get my exercise by acting as pallbearer for golfers who exercise to prolong useless lives.”

In 1926 another version of the joke appeared in a syndicated column about health titled “Play Safe in Taking Physical Exercise” written by a medical doctor named Royal S. Copeland. This instance was closer to the modern version. Copeland was recounting the remarks of an anonymous “old man”, and it is possible that he was reformulating the comments of William Allen White given above: 4

Somebody told a story about an old man so remarkably well that a newspaper reporter asked why he had lived so long and kept so strong. “I suppose it is because you take systematic exercise,” said the reporter.

The startling reply of the old gentleman was, “The only exercise I take is acting as pall-bearer to my friends who have indulged in strenuous exercise!”

This is a ridiculous yarn, but it has in it a suggestion of value. Exercise is useful so long as it really is exercise and not violent and difficult work.

Too many athletes die of heart or blood vessel trouble. Too much strain on the organs of circulation will do real and lasting harm

By 1930 the humorous remark was credited to Chauncey Depew, and by 1950 the jest was assigned to Mark Twain.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Take My Only Exercise Acting as a Pallbearer to My Friends Who Exercise

Notes:

  1. 1905 December 23, Harper’s Weekly, [Supplement to Harper’s Weekly], Mark Twain’s 70th Birthday: Record of a Dinner given in Celebration thereof at Delmonico’s on the Evening of December 5, 1905, Start Page 1884, Quote Page 1885, Column 2, Volume 49, Number 2557, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1922 August, Cosmopolitan, Volume 73, Number 2, My Week In Cuba by Ring W. Lardner, Start Page 48, Quote Page 51, International Magazine Company, New York, President: William Randolph Hearst. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1925 January 14, Evening Republican, “Thank Heaven It Was Sally” Says White: Kansan Admits He Was Ready to Wed Anyone, Page 1, Column 1, Mitchell, South Dakota. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1926 June 26, Chester Times, Play Safe in Taking Physical Exercise by Royal S. Copeland, M.D., Page 7, Column 7, Chester, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer in San Francisco

Locale: San Francisco, California? Paris, France? Duluth, Minnesota? Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

Originator: Mark Twain? Horace Walpole? James Quin? R. Q. Grant? Lord Byron? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Living in Menlo Park near San Francisco I have heard the following witticism credited to Mark Twain many times:

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.

I actually enjoy the weather here, so this saying always seemed implausible to me. Also, the San Francisco Chronicle once printed an article that cast doubt on the Twain attribution. Can you figure out who created this joke? Also, was the remark originally about SF or some other locale?

Quote Investigator: There is no evidence in the papers and speeches of Mark Twain that he ever made this remark about San Francisco. There is a letter discussed below from Twain in which he commented on a similar type of jest, but he expressed unhappiness with the weather of Paris and not San Francisco.

Top-flight researcher Stephen Goranson located the earliest known evidence of this joke-type in a letter written by Horace Walpole, a prominent literary figure and politician in England. Walpole attributed the remark to James Quin, a leading actor in London in the 1700s. This jest is distinct but it is closely related to the quip given by the questioner. The location of the cold weather was not specified. The letter was written during the summer of 1789 in July [HWJQ]:

Quin, being once asked if he had ever seen so bad a winter, replied, “Yes, just such an one last summer!”—and here is its youngest brother!

This comical observation and its ascription reached the attention of Mark Twain who mentioned it in a letter in 1880 while criticizing Parisian climate. The text of the letter is viewable at the authoritative Mark Twain Project Online [MTJQ]:

… for anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the Damnable. More than a hundred years ago somebody asked Quin, “Did you ever see such a winter in all your life before?” “Yes,” said he, “Last summer.” I judge he spent his summer in Paris.

Several fine researchers have noted the existence of this letter linking Twain to the quip about cold weather including Ralph Keyes [NGRK] [QVRK], Fred Shapiro [YQMT], and Barbara Schmidt [TQSF].

The modern phrasing of the saying was used by the beginning of the 1900s, but the initial target of the barb was not San Francisco. Instead, the joke was directed at a genuinely frosty locale: Duluth, Minnesota. The Duluth News-Tribune in 1900 recounted a version of the saying while using a belligerently defensive tone [DNDM]:

One of these days somebody will tell that mouldy chestnut about the finest winter he ever saw being the summer he spent in Duluth, and one of these husky commercial travelers, who have been here and know all about our climate, will smite him with an uppercut and break his slanderous jaw. The truth will come out in time.

The above instance in 1900 used the word “finest” instead of “coldest”. In June 1901 in a Kentucky newspaper an employee of the weather bureau deployed a version of the saying that closely matched a modern template. Once again the weather in Duluth was the subject [KYDM]:

In a recent conversation with Mr. R. Q. Grant, of the State College Weather Bureau, a Herald reporter learned that the life of the employes of the United States Weather Bureau service is one filled with interesting experiences. …

Later Mr. Grant was sent to Pike’s Peak, where he established the station now there. Another assignment was to Duluth, Minn., where he learned to appreciate rapid changes in temperature. He says the coldest winter he ever experienced was the summer he spent in Duluth.

Over a span of more than one hundred years many locations were substituted into this jest including: Milwaukee, Two Harbors, Grand Marais, Puget Sound, Buffalo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

Note that Mark Twain lived until 1910, so the expression was being used while he was still alive. Yet, the words were not attributed to him in any of the early instances. The first citation found by QI in which Twain’s name was invoked was dated 1928 and the subject was Duluth. The details are recorded further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer in San Francisco

Twenty Years From Now You Will Be More Disappointed By The Things You Didn’t Do Than By The Ones You Did Do

Mark Twain? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Virgin Galactic company of Richard Branson plans to offer suborbital spaceflights for tourists. The organization put together a beautiful brochure containing the following quotation credited to Mark Twain: 1

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Can you tell me where this was written by Mark Twain? I have not been able to locate this astute piece of advice in his novels or essays.

Quote Investigator: QI will be unable to tell you where to find this passage in the works of Twain because he never wrote it. Yet, the words are regularly credited to him. For example, the April 20, 1998 issue of The New Yorker magazine printed a vibrant full page advertisement depicting an ocean scene that prominently featured a version of this saying with the label “attributed to Mark Twain”. 2

The website TwainQuotes.com edited by Barbara Schmidt is a key resource for checking quotations attributed to Twain, and Schmidt states that “the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic”. 3

The earliest appearance that QI has located is relatively recent, 1990. The bestselling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. published the work containing the quotation, but he did not take credit for it. The book “P.S. I Love You” contained a collection of wise aphorisms from Brown’s mother, Sarah Frances Brown. Each page contained one thought, and the advice under investigation was printed on page 13. Each remark was prefaced with “P.S.” and ended with “I love you, Mom”. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Spoiler Warning: This post contains a spoiler for a version of the popular game Minecraft.

Continue reading Twenty Years From Now You Will Be More Disappointed By The Things You Didn’t Do Than By The Ones You Did Do

Notes:

  1. Virgin Galactic website at virgingalactic.com, Link on homepage for Downloadable Brochure describing suborbital space flights. Quotation ascribed to Mark Twain is on the first page. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  2. 1998 April 20, New Yorker magazine, Page 25, Advertisement with title “Warming Trends in the Caribbean”, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)
  3. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt, Comment at bottom of webpage titled Discovery. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  4. 1990, “P.S. I Love You” by H Jackson Brown, Page 13, Rutledge Hill Press, a Thomas Nelson Company, Nashville, Tennessee. (Many thanks to the librarian at the Columbia County Public Library in Lake City, Florida for verifying the quotation on paper; Cross-checked using Amazon Look Inside)

Heaven for the Climate, and Hell for the Company

Mark Twain? Ben Wade? Emery A. Storrs? James Matthew Barrie? Robert Burton?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a well-known quotation about heaven and hell that is usually credited to Mark Twain. I have found it phrased in different ways:

  1. Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.
  2. I would choose Heaven for climate but Hell for companionship.
  3. Heaven for climate. Hell for society.

My friend is adamant that the quotation was really created by James M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. Initially, I thought that possibility was unlikely, but when I searched I found some websites that agree with my friend’s claim. Could you examine this question?

Quote Investigator: Mark Twain and J. M. Barrie both employed versions of this quip, and detailed citations are presented further below. Nevertheless, the earliest evidence located by QI pointed to another individual. The joke was attributed to Ben Wade by a judge named Arthur MacArthur while he was speaking at a National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1885. The context did not provide enough details to uniquely identify Wade, but MacArthur may have been referring to the United States Senator Benjamin Franklin “Bluff” Wade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The effect of that paper reminded me of an anecdote relating to Ben Wade, who was once asked his opinion on heaven and hell. Well,” said Mr. Wade, “I think, from all I can learn, that heaven has the better climate, but hell has the better company.”

Here are additional selected citations and details in chronological order.

Continue reading Heaven for the Climate, and Hell for the Company

Notes:

  1. 1885, Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, Twelfth Annual Session Held in Washington, D.C., June 4-10, 1885, Judge MacArthur speaking on June 10, 1885, Page 500, National Conference of Charities and Correction, Press of Geo. H. Ellis, Boston. (Google Books full view) link

I Did Not Attend the Funeral, But I Sent a Nice Letter Saying I Approved of It

Mark Twain? James Wayle? Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar? Walter Winchell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the past few days several phony quotations were widely disseminated on the internet; in other words, they went viral. My question is about a saying that might be genuine. A CNN article contains the following expression attributed to Mark Twain:

I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

Do you think this is correct?

Quote Investigator: The author of the CNN article carefully refrained from definitively crediting the words to Twain [CNMT]. Instead, he said that the phrase had “long been attributed to Twain”.

This saying has not been found in Twain’s writings, and it is not included in the TwainQuotes.com repository. Website editor Barbara Schmidt states that currently “there is no evidence that links Mark Twain to the funeral quote” [TQMT].

Indeed, the basic joke was credited to Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar in 1884 and this ascription was mentioned in news reports for decades afterwards. During his long career, Hoar was a lawyer, a Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge, and an Attorney General of the United States.

The funeral referred to in the jest was for the prominent abolitionist and orator Wendell Phillips who died in Boston on February 2, 1884 according to Encyclopedia Americana and Encyclopedia Britannica [EAWP] [EBWP]. Later that month on the 29th a newspaper report was published presenting a joke credited to Hoar of the type that was later attributed to Twain [CCEH]:

Boston Post.—The Hon. E. R. Hoar did not love Phillips over much in his later years. It is now reported of him that while the remains of the great agitator were awaiting the final ceremonies a distinguished Cambridge gentleman asked him if he was going to attend Wendell Phillips’s funeral. “No,” was the reply, “but I approve it!”

In 1895, after the death of Hoar, the New York Times printed “Anecdotes of the Late Judge Hoar”. A version of the tale was included, and the newspaper indicated that Hoar’s memorable jibe at Phillips was his “best-known remark” [NYEH]:

Out of this feeling between the Judge and the agitator came what is, perhaps, Judge Hoar’s best-known remark, and the one that has oftenest been seen in print. After Phillips’s death, some one met Judge Hoar and asked him if he intended to attend the funeral. “No,” answered the Judge, “I don’t; but I approve of it.”

The earliest instance located by QI with an attribution to Mark Twain appeared in a humor magazine called “The Judge” in 1938. A reader identified as “James Wayle, of Milwaukee” wrote a letter to the editors of the periodical recounting a story about Twain [TJMT]:

… he writes to remind us that Mark Twain once refused to attend a noted politician’s funeral. “But then,” adds Mr. Wayle, “he wrote them a very nice letter explaining that he approved of it.”

In 1943 this story appeared in a volume titled “The Speaker’s Notebook” with an acknowledgment to “The Judge” magazine [SHMT]:

Mark Twain once refused to attend a noted politician’s funeral. But he wrote a very nice letter explaining that he approved of it.

Judge.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Did Not Attend the Funeral, But I Sent a Nice Letter Saying I Approved of It

I Have Never Killed Any One, But I Have Read Some Obituary Notices with Great Satisfaction

Mark Twain? Clarence Darrow? Overland Monthly? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the quotation below when it was tweeted a few days ago. It was credited to Mark Twain, but apparently he never said it:

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

Later I read news reports claiming that the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow said something similar. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Clarence Darrow did deliver a similar quip on several occasions. The earliest instance located by QI occurred during a speech in 1922. He also spoke a version during congressional testimony in 1926. The remark was popular, and he included another version in his autobiography “The Story of My Life” in 1932.

In 1922 Darrow addressed the “Illinois Conference on Public Welfare” with a speech simply titled “Crime”. He described candidly his feelings about reading obituaries, but the prolixity of his remark reduced its wittiness. In later versions Darrow presented more concise statements [CDPW]:

One reason why we don’t kill is because we are not used to it. I never killed anybody, but I have done just the same thing. I have had a great deal of satisfaction over many obituary notices that I have read. I never got into the habit of killing. I could mention the names of many that it would please me if I could read their obituaries in the paper in the morning.

In Darrow’s 1932 memoir he wrote a short version that decades later would be suitable for tweeting [CDSL]:

I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Have Never Killed Any One, But I Have Read Some Obituary Notices with Great Satisfaction

She Was a Sinking Vessel with No Freight to Throw Overboard

Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard the following quote attributed to Mark Twain:

A man who doesn’t smoke is like a sinking ship with no rats to desert it.

True of false?

Quote Investigator: QI was unable to locate a close match for that quotation in the works of Mark Twain; however, QI did find an anecdote about a woman who did not smoke, drink, or swear. The woman was ill, and Twain employed a figure of speech that compared her plight to that of a sinking vessel without any freight to throw overboard. This episode was presented in the 1897 travel book “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and it may have been transmuted over time to yield the questioner’s quotation.

Here is an excerpt from Twain’s book describing the medical advice he offered to the woman [FESF]:

Continue reading She Was a Sinking Vessel with No Freight to Throw Overboard

A Banker Lends You His Umbrella When It’s Sunny and Wants It Back When It Rains

Mark Twain? Robert Frost? Ambrose Bierce? Ben Bernanke? Philippe Girardet? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is remarkably difficult to obtain a loan in a difficult economic climate. This notion can be expressed with the following adage:

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

Mark Twain is sometimes credited with this remark, but I know that means little. It seems every clever remark is eventually attributed to Twain. Could you figure out who really said it?

Quote Investigator: You are correct to doubt the ascription of the saying to Mark Twain. The invaluable TwainQuotes website of Barbara Schmidt has a webpage dedicated to this adage with the following warning notice: 1

This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.

1905 is the date of the earliest citation found by QI expressing the kernel of the idea in the maxim. The following words were published in a London-based weekly for chartered accountants: 2

A customer who was not getting what he wanted, once said to me: “You bankers only lend a man an umbrella when it is a fine day,” and I thought he expressed it exactly.

A version very similar to the questioner’s expression appeared in January 1930. The first cite found by QI attributing the remark to Mark Twain is dated 1944. In 1949 the adage was credited to the famous poet Robert Frost.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading A Banker Lends You His Umbrella When It’s Sunny and Wants It Back When It Rains

Notes:

  1. TwainQuotes editor Barbara Schmidt, TwainQuotes.com website, Banker quotation and attribution warning, “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella…” (Accessed 2011 April 06) link
  2. 1905 April 15, The Accountant: The Recognised Weekly Organ of Chartered Accountants, [A paper read at a meeting of the Manchester Chartered Accountants Society on March 10th 1905], Notes on a Banker’s Accounts by John Moodie, Page 464, Column 1, Gee & Co., The Accountant Office, London. (Google Books full view) link

Figures Don’t Lie, But Liars Do Figure

Carroll D. Wright? Mark Twain? Charles H. Grosvenor? James G. Blaine? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I hope you will be able to settle a disagreement between friends concerning the following quotation:

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.

My friend believes that this saying originated with Samuel Clemens otherwise known as Mark Twain. I think it was created by Carroll D. Wright who was once the top statistics expert in the United States. Could you research this quote and help us to determine who composed it?

Quote Investigator: The saying has been credited to Mark Twain for more than ninety-five years, but the first citation for Twain located by QI is dated 1913. This is after Twain’s death and there is no corroborating evidence for the attribution in Twain’s own writings.

Carroll D. Wright was a prominent statistician employed by the U.S. government, and he did use the expression in 1889 while addressing the Convention of Commissioners of Bureaus of Statistics of Labor. But Wright did not claim that he coined the expression [CDW1]:

The old saying is that “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.

Wright indicates that the second half of the quotation which is a twist using wordplay on the first half is a “new saying”. Indeed, QI has traced the statement back a few more years. The oldest three citations found by QI contain no attributions. The first instance is in a North Dakota newspaper of 1884 where the sentiment is presented as an anonymous piece of wisdom.

Continue reading Figures Don’t Lie, But Liars Do Figure

When I Was a Boy of Fourteen, My Father Was So Ignorant

Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am interested in a fantastic quotation that I always thought was from the pen of Mark Twain:

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

Recently I saw a documentary by Ken Burns about Twain, and I checked out the companion biography from the library. The quote above is listed in a section called “What Twain Didn’t Say”. 1 Also, I visited the Snopes website and found an article by Barbara Mikkelson that says the quote is apocryphal. 2 I guess Mark Twain did not say it. But can you find out who did say it and when it first appeared?

Quote Investigator: Mark Twain died in 1910. The first appearance of a version of this saying that QI has located is dated 1915, and the words are attributed to Twain. There are a series of citations from 1915 to the present day that each credit Twain, but the wording used in these quotations varies considerably. For example, the starting age of the son is sometimes given as fourteen and sometimes seventeen. The final age of the son is twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-five and twenty-seven. An intermediate age of eighteen, twenty, or twenty-three is listed in some versions.

Mark Twain’s father died when he was eleven years old. Thus, if Twain did say or write these words he did so while inhabiting a novelistic persona. The saying does not apply to his veridical life. But, it might apply to a character that he created, or one he was projecting during a speech.

QI has not yet found any direct evidence that connects Twain to the quote. Further, the first known attribution to Twain occurs five years after his death. So the evidence is weak. On the other hand, no one else is credibly credited with the saying. At this time QI has not located any significant attributions to other figures.

Continue reading When I Was a Boy of Fourteen, My Father Was So Ignorant

Notes:

  1. 2001, Mark Twain by Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward, Based on a Documentary by Ken Burns, What Twain Didn’t Say, Page 189, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Google Books snippet view; Verified on paper) link
  2. Snopes website, “Questionable Quotes: And Never the Twain Shall Tweet” by Barbara Mikkelson, (Last updated: September 26, 2007) (Accessed online at snopes.com on October 9, 2010) link