I Am Pleased To Believe That You Like the Piece Almost as Much as I Do Myself

Oscar Wilde? Louise Jopling? Hesketh Pearson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: After the enormously successful debut of a comedy by Oscar Wilde the audience demanded that the playwright deliver a few words. His speech included a comically self-congratulatory line that was similar to the following:

You think almost as highly of the play as I do myself.

Would you please help me to locate a citation and determine precisely what Wilde said?

Quote Investigator: On February 22, 1892 “The Morning Post” of London printed a review of Oscar Wilde’s new play “Lady Windermere’s Fan” which the paper said “was received with great favour”. The curtain was “thrice raised”, and the theatergoers were eager to hear remarks from Wilde. He began as follows: 1

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe it is the privilege of an author to allow his words to be reproduced by others while he himself remains silent. But, as you seem to wish to hear me speak, I accept the honour you are kind enough to confer upon me.

Wilde praised George Alexander who produced the show and the performers who brought the story to life. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

I have to thank them one and all for the infinite care they have taken to fill in every detail until the sketch has become a finished picture. I think that you have enjoyed the performance as much as I have, and I am pleased to believe that you like the piece almost as much as I do myself.

The newspaper stated that Wilde’s comments “were received with hearty laughter and applause”. Over the years different versions of Wilde’s speech have been presented, however, QI believes that this contemporaneous account probably provided the most accurate transcription.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Pleased To Believe That You Like the Piece Almost as Much as I Do Myself

Notes:

  1. 1892 February 22, The Morning Post, St. James’s Theatre, Quote Page 2, Column 5, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Oscar Wilde? Michael Cunningham? Robert Klitzman? Robert Michels? Frank Underwood? Kevin Spacey? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the precipitous downfall of an influential literary tastemaker and powerbroker at “The Paris Review” I encountered once again a remark attributed to Oscar Wilde. Here are three versions:

  • Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.
  • Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.
  • Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.

The Wilde ascription is often labeled apocryphal. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde wrote or said this remark. It is not listed in the valuable compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” assembled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in the “Provincetown Arts” journal of 1995. Author Michael Cunningham employed the saying during an interview conducted by fellow author Paul Lisicky. Cunningham is now best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Hours”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

If you’re writing about what people do to and with one another, it’s sort of crazy to leave sex out. I think Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in human life is really about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” And I think he’s got something there.

Cunningham disclaimed coinage and provided an attribution that was both tentative and implausible. Hence, the saying remains anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, Quote (Quotation is absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1995, Provincetown Arts, Volume 11, Conversations: A Talk with Michael Cunningham by Paul Lisicky, Start Page 36, Quote Page 39, Column 3, Published Annually in July by Provincetown Arts Inc., Provincetown, Massachusetts. link (Internet Archive at archive.org accessed June 5, 2018)

The Country: A Damp Sort of Place Where All Sorts of Birds Fly About Uncooked

Oscar Wilde? Alfred Hitchcock? Joseph Wood Krutch? Margo Coleman? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Anyone who has grown tired of reading idealized and overly sentimental visions of nature will enjoy the following skewed definition:

Nature is where the birds fly around uncooked.

These words are credited to Oscar Wilde, but I haven’t found any convincing citations. Would you please help uncover the true author?

Quote Investigator: In 1949 the theater critic and biographer Joseph Wood Krutch published a book about nature titled “The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Children can be taken occasionally to the country to see what the sun looks like as they are taken now to see a hill or a mountain. Probably many of them will not want to go anyway, for the country will be to them only what it was to the London club man: “A damp sort of place where all sorts of birds fly about uncooked.”

QI believes that the anonymous “London club man” may be viewed as an archetype, and it is reasonable to directly credit Krutch with the joke. Alternatively, one may state that Krutch popularized the remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Country: A Damp Sort of Place Where All Sorts of Birds Fly About Uncooked

Notes:

  1. 1970 (Copyright 1949), The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country by Joseph Wood Krutch, Chapter: June: Spring Rain, Quote Page 33 and 34,(Reprint of 1949 edition by arrangement with William Morrow & Co.), Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York. (Verified on paper)

Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes

Oscar Wilde? Frank Harris? Irish Barrister? Wilton Lackaye? Margaret Waters? Well-Known Young Clubman? Gustav Traub? Mike Romanoff? Samuel George Blythe? Arthur M. Binstead? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The scintillating conversationalist Oscar Wilde enjoyed modifying dusty platitudes to construct comical alternatives. For example, he permuted an old complaint about the working class to yield:

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

Oddly, I have not found a citation for this statement dated before the death of Wilde. Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in November 1900. The earliest published instance of this quip located by QI occurred in the caption of a newspaper cartoon in 1902. The details are given further below.

Yet there is good evidence that Oscar Wilde did craft this statement. In 1916 the writer and outsized personality Frank Harris who was a friend of Wilde’s published a biography titled “Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions”. Harris described a party he threw during which Wilde delivered the remark. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A little later I gave a dinner at the Savoy and asked him to come. He was delightful, his vivacious gaiety as exhilarating as wine. But he was more like a Roman Emperor than ever: he had grown fat: he ate and drank too much; not that he was intoxicated, but he became flushed, and in spite of his gay and genial talk he affected me a little unpleasantly; he was gross and puffed up. But he gave one or two splendid snapshots of actors and their egregious vanity. It seemed to him a great pity that actors should be taught to read and write: they should learn their pieces from the lips of the poet.

“Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country,” he said laughing, “so education is the curse of the acting classes.”

Yet even when making fun of the mummers there was a new tone in him of arrogance and disdain. He used always to be genial and kindly even to those he laughed at; now he was openly contemptuous.

The accuracy of the above ascription to Wilde depends on the veracity of Harris who was a direct witness. Harris explained the long delay before the appearance of his book in the introduction. Wilde was a controversial figure and Harris’s sympathetic work condemned the harshness of Wilde’s punishment. Harris waited more than ten years hoping that someone else would write a comparable book. He acted when he finally felt compelled to present his own viewpoint.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes

Notes:

  1. 1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris, Volume 1, Quote Page 166, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Dancing Is a Perpendicular Expression of a Horizontal Desire

George Bernard Shaw? George Melly? I. S. Johar? Ann Landers? Patrick Harte? Robert Frost? Winston Churchill? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?

dancing07Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an adage highlighting the sensual aspects of popular gyrations:

  1. Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.
  2. Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal idea.

George Bernard Shaw, Ann Landers, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Frost have received credit for this saying. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the London periodical “New Statesman” in 1962. The musician and critic George Melly attributed the saying to the notable playwright George Bernard Shaw. Emphasis added by QI: 1

I have spent a certain amount of time lately watching people in London dance in the various new ways. I report what went on in three very different places where my fellow countrymen and women had come together to give what Shaw called ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire’.

Shaw’s death in 1950 preceded Melly’s article by more than a decade, and the text provided no citation; hence, the evidence supporting the ascription was rather weak. Nevertheless, the citations for competing ascriptions are even less persuasive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Dancing Is a Perpendicular Expression of a Horizontal Desire

Notes:

  1. 1962 March 23, New Statesman, Late Perpendicular by George Melly, Start Page 426, Quote Page 426, Column 3, New Statesman Ltd., London. (ProQuest)

Genius Is Born, Not Paid

Oscar Wilde? Frank Harris? Apocryphal?

genius09Dear Quote Investigator: The following passage from a philosophical magazine of 1815 asserts that intellectual gifts are innate: 1

That genius is born, is a trite truth; education never creates, it only cultivates and directs the faculties.

An ancient adage states this controversial thesis concisely for the realm of poetry:

A poet is born, not made.

There are many examples of great poets and other geniuses such as Vincent van Gogh and Nikola Tesla who died in poverty. Oscar Wilde who was also financially strapped at the end of his life was aware of the pitfalls of brilliance, so he modified an adage with acerbic wordplay:

Genius is born, not made.
Genius is born, not paid.

Would you please examine this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the 1916 biography “Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions” by Frank Harris. A section about Wilde’s last year of life in 1900 described a party during which the witticism was delivered. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2 3

The entertainment usually started with some humorous play on words. One of the company would say something obvious or trivial, repeat a proverb or commonplace tag such as, “Genius is born, not made,” and Oscar would flash in smiling, “not ‘paid,’ my dear fellow, not ‘paid.'”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Genius Is Born, Not Paid

Notes:

  1. January 1815, The Philosophical Magazine And Journal, Volume 45, Dr. Spurzheim’s demonstrative Course of Lectures, Start Page 50, Quote Page 52, Printed by Richard and Arthur Taylor, Shoe Lane, London. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions, Frank Harris, Volume 2, Quote Page 412, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1916 October, The Phoenix, Volume 5, Number 5, Oscar Wilde as a Talker, (Excerpt from Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris), Start Page 146, Quote Page 147, Published by Michael Monahan, South Norwalk, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

If You Want To Tell People the Truth, You’d Better Make Them Laugh or They’ll Kill You

George Bernard Shaw? Oscar Wilde? Cecile Starr? Billy Wilder? Richard Pryor? James L. Brooks? Dustin Hoffman? Charles Ludlam?

masks09Dear Quote Investigator: Dramatists have discovered that challenging material often elicits hostility or boredom. This is dangerous for creators because jobs in the entertainment industry are precarious. Yet, a provocative production leavened with humor is often embraced by audiences. The following adage now circulates on Broadway and in Hollywood:

1) If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.
2) If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.

The playwrights George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Ludlam have all been credited with this saying. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1951 article in “The Saturday Review” by critic and film historian Cecile Starr discussing a documentary film festival. When Starr commented on the works of one filmmaker she mentioned the adage and ascribed it to George Bernard Shaw who had died a year earlier. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . Shaw’s lively aphorism, “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you” . . .

QI has found no substantive support for crediting Oscar Wilde with the saying. He died in 1900 and the expression appeared decades afterwards. There is some good evidence that the well-known director Billy Wilder employed the saying, but the linkage occurred after it was attributed to Shaw. There was also some indirect evidence Charles Ludlam used the expression. The comedian Richard Pryor, actor Dustin Hoffman, and screenwriter James L. Brooks all delivered the line during interviews, but they spoke when it was already in circulation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Want To Tell People the Truth, You’d Better Make Them Laugh or They’ll Kill You

Notes:

  1. 1951 October 13, The Saturday Review, Ideas on Film: Edinburgh’s Documentary Festival by Cecile Starr, Start Page 60, Quote Page 60, Column 1, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)

Obscene and Not Heard

Groucho Marx? Ethel Barrymore? Maurice Barrymore? Paul M. Potter? Gertrude Battles Lane? John Lennon? Joe E. Lewis? Robert Heinlein? Marilyn Manson? Augustus John? Oscar Wilde?

barrymore12Dear Quote Investigator: There is well-known and often repeated admonition directed at young people who are making too much noise:

Children should be seen and not heard.

Wordplay has produced multiple quips which transform the phrase “seen and not heard” into other similar sounding statements:

Back in our day sex was obscene and not heard.
The writing was obscene but not absurd.
Graffiti should be obscene and not heard.
Women should be obscene but not heard.

Instances of these statements have been attributed to Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Ethel Barrymore, Robert Heinlein, and Oscar Wilde. Attitudes have changed over the years and some statements in this family grate on many modern ears. Would you please examine this family of adages?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an anecdote published in a New York newspaper in 1892. The quip was spoken by Maurice Barrymore who was the patriarch of the famous theater family that included his children John, Lionel, and Ethel. A large show had recently closed, and Barrymore discussed the production with a fellow actor. He defended the risqué performances of the lead actress while mentioning the poor acoustics of the capacious venue. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Here is the latest scintillation of Barrymore’s wit. Barrymore and Wilton Lackaye were discussing Mrs. Bernard-Beere’s unfortunate engagement at the Manhattan Opera-House. Lackaye having said something about the English actress’s failure, Barrymore replied: “My dear boy, you must remember that the size of the theatre was entirely against her; it is so large that it entirely destroyed the delicacy of her art. The stage of that theatre is intended only for broad effects.”

“Well,” said Lackaye, “judging from what I have heard, the broad effects in some of her plays were marked, especially certain scenes in ‘Ariane.'”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” declared Barrymore. “On that big stage anybody can be obscene and not heard.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Obscene and Not Heard

Notes:

  1. 1892 December 12, The Evening World, Stage News and Notes, Quote Page 5, Column 3, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Lovers: They Sing a Song Only You Can Hear

Oscar Wilde? CosmoGIRL? L. G. McVean? William J. Locke? Elizabeth Cooper? Holiday Mathis? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

swings08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular saying about the intimate connection between people who are in love that has been attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. The closeness is expressed using an auditory metaphor:

You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.

Highlighting a “fancy car” in Wilde’s time period seems prochronistic. Did Wilde make this remark?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde spoke or wrote a statement of this type. It is not listed in the excellent compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” which was compiled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1

The earliest full match known to QI appeared relatively recently in the 2006 book “CosmoGirl!: Words to Live” from the editors of the now defunct magazine CosmoGIRL, and the attribution was anonymous. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.” —Anonymous

The notion of a song that is only audible to one’s lover has a long history, and QI has found citations beginning in 1888 although this trope is probably much older. Details are presented below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Lovers: They Sing a Song Only You Can Hear

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, Book Title: CosmoGirl!: Words to Live By from The Editors of CosmoGIRL, Chapter: Love Lines, Quote Page 52, Hearst Books: A Division of Sterling Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Preview)