Success Is a Science; If You Have the Conditions, You Get the Result

Oscar Wilde? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I encountered the following bromide within a get-rich-quick self-help book:

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.

I was astonished to find that the words were attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. The websites listing the quotation were useless. None of them presented a solid citation, and skepticism is a natural response. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The ascription to Oscar Wide is correct.

The U.S. actress Marie Prescott agreed to take the leading role in Oscar Wilde’s play “Vera; or, The Nihilists”. “The New York Herald” in August 1883 published a promotional piece about the upcoming production of the play within the city. The newspaper reprinted portions of a letter Wilde sent to Prescott. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I think we must remember that no amount of advertising will make a bad play succeed, if it is not a good play well acted. I mean that one might patrol the streets of New York with a procession of vermilion caravans twice a day for six months to announce that ‘Vera’ was a great play, but if on the first night of its production the play was not a strong play, well acted, well mounted, all the advertisements in the world would avail nothing.

My name signed to a play will excite some interest in London and America. Your name as the heroine carries great weight with it. What we want to do is to have all the real conditions of success in our hands. Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result. Art is the mathematical result of the emotional desire for beauty.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Success Is a Science; If You Have the Conditions, You Get the Result

Notes:

  1. 1883 August 12, The New York Herald, The Theatre: Preparations for the Approaching Musical and Dramatic Season, (Letter from Oscar Wilde to Marie Prescott), Quote Page 10, Column 4, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)

My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain? Frank Fiest? Will Rogers? Walter Armstrong? Herman Lindauer? William M. Lewis? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following musical instruments have in common: cornet, ukulele, saxophone, bagpipes, accordion, and banjo? Each of these instruments has a distinctive sound that is unpleasant to some listeners providing inspiration for a family of comical insults. Here are three typical barbs:

(1) A true gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, and doesn’t.

(2) A considerate person is one who could play a saxophone but doesn’t wish to.

(3) A man who can play the accordion but won’t, is a good neighbor.

The well-known wits Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have received credit for this kind of quip, but I have been unable to find any supporting citations. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in January 1917 within the pages of “The Atchison Weekly Globe” of Atchison, Kansas. A mellow brass instrument was disparaged by a joke ascribed to a local man named Frank Fiest. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Frank Fiest: “My idea of a gentleman is he who can play a cornet and won’t.” Well said, Mr. Fiest.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Notes:

  1. 1917 January 25, The Atchison Weekly Globe, Half Minute Interviews, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

What You Read When You Don’t Have To, Determines What You Will Be When You Can’t Help It

Oscar Wilde? Charles Francis Potter? Mabel C. Wolcott? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Oscar Wilde was an avid reader and an excellent classicist. The following statement has been attributed to him:

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

I am skeptical of this ascription because I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This remark is not listed in the valuable compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” assembled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1 QI believes that the attribution to Oscar Wilde is mistaken. The discussion accompanying the 1948 citation given further below suggests one possible mechanism for the error.

QI thinks that the prominent Unitarian minister Charles Francis Potter deserves credit for the remark under analysis. In June 1927 a newspaper in Burlington, Vermont reported that Potter had spoken to members of the local Athena Club on the topic of “Books and the Home”, and he used a version of the expression. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

“What you read when you don’t have to, determines what you will be when you can’t help it,” according to Mr. Potter. Libraries must be for the people and they must be accessible. He believes as much should be spent for the libraries as is for the streets.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What You Read When You Don’t Have To, Determines What You Will Be When You Can’t Help It

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (Quotation “…what you read when…” not found during search), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1927 June 7, The Burlington Free Press, Says Highbrows Are in Need of Education, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Burlington, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)

A Work of Art Is Never Finished, Merely Abandoned

Paul Valéry? W. H. Auden? Anaïs Nin? Maya Deren? Jean Cocteau? Gore Vidal? Marianne Moore? George Lucas? Oscar Wilde?

Dear Quote Investigator: A creative person who is absorbed with the task of generating an artwork hesitates to declare completion. Reworking and improving a piece are always tantalizing possibilities. Here are five versions of a saying about unavoidable incompleteness:

  • A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
  • A work is never completed, but merely abandoned.
  • A work of art is never completed, only abandoned.
  • Books are never finished—they are merely abandoned.
  • Films are never completed, they are only abandoned.

The prominent poets Paul Valéry and W. H. Auden have both received credit for this adage. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In March 1933 Paul Valéry published an essay in “La Nouvelle Revue Française” (“The New French Review”) about his poem “Le Cimetière marin” (“The Cemetery by the sea”). The saying under analysis was included in this article although the exposition was lengthy. Over time Valéry’s words were streamlined and modified to yield the current set of expressions. Here is the original French followed by a rendering into English. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiétude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé, – mot qui pour eux n’a aucun sens, – mais abandonné ; et cet abandon, qui le livre aux flammes ou au public (et qu’il soit l’effet de la lassitude ou de l’obligation de livrer) est une sorte d’accident, comparable à la rupture d’une réflexion, que la fatigue, le fâcheux ou quelque sensation viennent rendre nulle.

The following translation by Rosalie Maggio appeared in the valuable reference “The Quote Verifier”: 2

In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, of the book to the fire or to the public, whether due to weariness or to a need to deliver it for publication, is a sort of accident, comparable to the letting-go of an idea that has become so tiring or annoying that one has lost all interest in it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Work of Art Is Never Finished, Merely Abandoned

Notes:

  1. Date: Mars 1933 (March 1933), Periodical: La Nouvelle Revue Française (The New French Review), Article: Au sujet du Cimetière marin (Concerning the Cemetery by the Sea), Author: Paul Valéry, Start Page 399, Quote Page 399, Publisher: La Nouvelle Revue Française, Paris, France. (On February 23, 2019 QI accessed image showing Table of Contents via gallimard.fr; QI has verified that Table of Contents for March 1933 lists the article; also text is visible in multiple snippets within La Nouvelle Revue Française in Google Books, but QI has not yet accessed the issue directly to view the article) link
  2. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Entry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned”, Quote Page 167 and 317, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

“Are You Enjoying Yourself?” “Yes, But That’s the Only Thing I Am Enjoying”

Oscar Wilde? George Bernard Shaw? Ambrose Bierce? Charles Frederick Joy? Percival Christopher Wren? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you are attending a soporific party, and the host asks whether you are content you might reply with the following comically self-absorbed zinger attributed to the famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde:

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Wilde?”
“Enormously, Madam, there’s nothing else to enjoy.”

This same quip has been attributed to the prominent English playwright George Bernard Shaw:

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Shaw?”
“Yes—and that’s the only thing I am enjoying.”

Are either of these exchanges genuine? Would you please explore this topic

Quote Investigator: The evidence supporting an ascription to either Wilde or Shaw is weak.

The humor of this rejoinder rests on verbal ambiguity. The host’s inquiry “Are you enjoying yourself?” typically means “Are you experiencing enjoyment via conversation with fellow partygoers and via consuming the refreshments?”. The humorously contorted interpretation is “Are you deriving enjoyment from experiencing your own being?”

A matching joke appeared in 1883 in “The Times” newspaper of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which acknowledged the “Boston Transcript” of Boston, Massachusetts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Wrapped in his own originality: Young Goldy sat by himself in the corner, meditatively twirling his moustache, not noticing anybody and noticed by none. He was finally spied out by Brown, who approached and said, “You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself, Goldy, my boy.” “Oh, yes, I am,” replied Goldy in a languid manner: “enjoying myself hugely, old fellow; but kill me if I am enjoying any of these people, you know.”—Boston Transcript.

The identity of the joke creator was not given in “The Times”. It might be specified in the “Boston Transcript”, but QI has not yet seen the original context. Currently, the creator is anonymous. The same passage was reprinted in other newspapers in 1883 such as “The Times-Democrat” of New Orleans, Louisiana: 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Are You Enjoying Yourself?” “Yes, But That’s the Only Thing I Am Enjoying”

Notes:

  1. 1883 January 8, The Times, Midwinter Mirth, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1883 January 12, The Times-Democrat, All Sorts, Quote Page 3, Column 6, New Orleans, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)

Keep Your Eyes On the Stars, But Your Feet On the Ground

Theodore Roosevelt? Oscar Wilde? William Allen Harper? Ayn Rand? Casey Kasem?

Dear Quote Investigator: High aspirations should be combined with a practical spirit to achieve greatness. This notion can be expressed with the following adage:

Keep your eyes on the stars, but your feet on the ground.

This statement has been attributed to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: In 1900 New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in Chicago, Illinois during which he signaled that he did not wish to be the Vice President of the U.S. The speech closed with the following words reported in “The Daily Inter Ocean” newspaper of Chicago. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The head-in-the-air theorists will not succeed in politics any more than in law, or physics, or dry goods. We’ve got to face facts. An uncomfortable truth is a safer companion than the most attractive falsehood. Strive mightily for high ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but don’t forget that your feet are necessarily on the earth.

Roosevelt employed different versions of the saying about stars and feet in several speeches over the years. He served as U.S. President from 1901 to 1909.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Keep Your Eyes On the Stars, But Your Feet On the Ground

Notes:

  1. 1900 April 27, The Daily Inter Ocean, Roosevelt Says No, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

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)