I Quite Agree With You, But Who Are We Two Against So Many?

George Bernard Shaw? Oscar Wilde? Clarence Rook? Alexander Woollcott? Hesketh Pearson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A playwright feared that his upcoming work was about to flop at the box office. After the surprisingly successful inaugural performance the bewildered playwright appeared on stage. Amongst the resounding cheers there was a barely audible hiss. The playwright addressed the lone detractor:

I quite agree with you, but what can we two do against a whole houseful of the opposite opinion?

George Bernard Shaw has received credit for this line. Would you please explore this popular anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the Chicago, Illinois periodical “The Chap-Book” in November 1896. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I well remember how at the first night of “Arms and the Man” at the Avenue Theatre, after the audience had been successively puzzled, tickled and delighted, Shaw stepped before the curtain to face the applause. He was tremulous, unnerved, speechless. He looked as though he had expected cabbage stalks, and was disappointed. Suddenly a man in the Gallery began to hoot.

Shaw was himself again at once. He opened his lips, and amid the resulting silence he said, looking at the solitary malcontent. “I quite agree with my friend in the Gallery — but what are two against so many?” A single breath of opposition braced his energies. For Shaw is like the kite, and can rise only when the popular is aura is against him.

British journalist Clarence Rook penned the passage above, and apparently he directly witnessed Shaw deliver the line. The comedy “Arms and the Man” was first staged in April 1894 in London. Thus, Rook’s description appeared two years after the event. An earlier citation may exist, but QI has not yet uncovered it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Quite Agree With You, But Who Are We Two Against So Many?

Notes:

  1. 1896 November 1, The Chap-Book Semi-Monthly, Volume 5, Number 12, George Bernard Shaw by Clarence Rook, Start Page 529, Quote Page 539 and 540, Herbert S. Stone & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

One Man’s Poetry Is Another Man’s Poison

Oscar Wilde? Titus Lucretius Carus? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: One person may enjoy a food or activity that another person finds repellent. A well-known adage expresses this notion:

One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

The following funny variant has been attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde:

One man’s poetry is another man’s poison.

Did Wilde really craft this statement? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1895 the trial of The Crown versus Oscar Wilde occurred in London. Wilde was asked to comment on some verses written by his friend and companion Lord Alfred Douglas. In the following passage “Mr. Gill” referred to prosecutor Charles Gill, and “Witness” referred to Oscar Wilde. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Gill. — “You can, perhaps, understand that such verses as these would not be acceptable to the reader with an ordinarily balanced mind?”

Witness. — “I am not prepared to say. It appears to me to be a question of taste, temperament and individuality. I should say that one man’s poetry is another man’s poison!” (Loud laughter.)

The text above is from “The Trial of Oscar Wilde: From the Shorthand Reports” privately published in 1906 as a limited edition. Hence, this is not an official transcript, but it provides substantive evidence that Wilde made the remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading One Man’s Poetry Is Another Man’s Poison

Notes:

  1. 1906, The Trial of Oscar Wilde: From the Shorthand Reports, Limited edition number 184 of 550, Preface signed by C. G., Quote Page 58, Privately Printed, Paris, France. (HathiTrust Full View) link

I’m Not Young Enough To Know Everything

James Matthew Barrie? Oscar Wilde? Benjamin Disraeli? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Young people often reject the teachings of their elders. They believe that their understanding is superior. An older individual constructed the following ironic barb:

I am not young enough to know everything.

This statement has often been attributed to the famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde. It has also been credited to the playwright J. M. Barrie who is best known for the creation of Peter Pan. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: J. M. Barrie wrote the comic play “The Admirable Crichton” which was first produced in 1902. Barrie published the script by 1918. A character named Ernest delivered the line, and he repeated it when its humor was not fully understood: 1

LADY MARY (speaking without looking up). You impertinent boy.

ERNEST (eagerly plucking another epigram from his quiver). I knew that was it, though I don’t know everything. Agatha, I’m not young enough to know everything.
(He looks hopefully from one to another, but though they try to grasp this, his brilliance baffles them.)

AGATHA (his secret admirer) Young enough?

ERNEST (encouragingly) Don’t you see? I’m not young enough to know everything.

AGATHA I’m sure it’s awfully clever, but it’s so puzzling.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I’m Not Young Enough To Know Everything

Notes:

  1. 1918, The Plays of J. M. Barrie: The Admirable Crichton: A Comedy, Act I, Quote Page 12 and 13, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The Old Believe Everything: The Middle-Aged Suspect Everything: The Young Know Everything

Oscar Wilde? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde once constructed an epigram about human knowledge and the three stages of life. I recall Wilde’s remarks about two of the stages. The arrogant young know everything, and the credulous old believe anything. Would you please help me to find this epigram?

Quote Investigator: Alfred Douglas asked Oscar Wilde to contribute to a new journal for students at the University of Oxford called “The Chameleon”. Wilde sent a collection of thirty-five witticisms which were published under the title “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young” in 1894. Here were four items. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

If one tells the truth one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.

In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer.

The old believe everything: the middle-aged suspect everything: the young know everything.

Only the great masters of style ever succeed in being obscure.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Old Believe Everything: The Middle-Aged Suspect Everything: The Young Know Everything

Notes:

  1. 1894, The Chameleon, Volume 1, Number 1, Edited by John Francis Bloxam, Article: Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young by Oscar Wilde, Start Page 1, Quote Page 3, Gay and Bird, London. (British Library website; accessed bl.uk on October 28, 2020) link

God In Creating Man, Somewhat Overestimated His Ability

Oscar Wilde? Francis Douglas? 11th Marquess of Queensberry? ‎Percy Colson? Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Book of Genesis describes the creation of the world and the formation of Adam and Eve. The actions of this couple in the Garden of Eden quickly revealed behavioral defects. A sardonic commentator has suggested that God overestimated his capabilities when he synthesized humankind.

This remark is usually attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wide. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and the earliest match known to QI occurred decades later in the 1940 book “Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas” by Francis Douglas, 11th Marquess of Queensberry in collaboration with ‎Percy Colson. The following passage mixes commentary about Wilde together with quotations attributed to him. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Art and religion had much in common, he thought; both give an enhanced sense of living. St. Francis of Assisi, and Jeanne d’Arc were artists in their way, and he loved tradition. “Never try to pull down public monuments such as the Albert Memorial and the Church,” he said. “You are sure to be damaged by the falling masonry.”

But the Creator as an artist did not meet with his whole-hearted admiration. “I sometimes think that God in creating man, somewhat over-estimated his ability,” he remarked to a friend.

The friend was unidentified, and the long delay between 1900 and 1940 reduced the evidentiary value of this citation. Yet, QI is unaware of any other candidate creator with substantive support.

Francis Douglas was the nephew of Lord Alfred Douglas who was the lover and repudiator of Wilde. In addition, Francis Douglas was the grandchild of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry who was Wilde’s nemesis. Interestingly, the book is sympathetic to Wilde.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading God In Creating Man, Somewhat Overestimated His Ability

Notes:

  1. 1949, Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas by The Marquess of Queensberry (Francis Douglas) in collaboration with ‎Percy Colson, Chapter 2: Oscar Wilde’s Parentage and Youth, Quote Page 20, Hutchinson & Company, London. (Verified with scans)

Paradox Is Truth Standing On Its Head To Attract Attention

Oscar Wilde? G. K. Chesterson? Richard G. Moulton? Coulson Kernahan? William Thomas Stead? Richard Le Gallienne? C. Ranger Gull? Leonard Cresswell Ingleby? Guy Thorne? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The contemplation of a seemingly self-contradictory statement can help to illuminate a larger truth. This notion may be expressed with figurative language:

Paradox is merely truth standing on its head to attract attention.

The famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde and the English literary figure G. K. Chesterton have received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in April 1898 within the London periodical “The Review of Reviews” edited by William Thomas Stead. A piece titled “The Jubilee of the Awakening of 1848” that was probably written by the editor began with the following discussion. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Success is a bad word!” said Victor Hugo once in his magnificently paradoxical fashion. “Success is a bad word. Its false resemblance to merit deceives mankind.” Richard Le Gallienne, who has recently been airing his ambrosial locks in the heated air of American lecture-rooms, once told his audience that “a paradox was a truth standing on its head in order to attract attention.” Victor Hugo’s paradox is a truth that hardly needs to be stood on its head to command attention.

QI believes that English author Richard Le Gallienne is the leading candidate for crafter of this expression. Le Gallienne was a close friend of Oscar Wilde. Further below in this article QI presents a 1923 citation in which Le Gallienne took credit for this saying, and he applied it to Oscar Wilde.

The attribution of this saying to Wilde may have occurred due to the following known misquotation mechanism: A well-known name appears near a vivid statement, and a careless reader incorrectly reassigns the statement to the prominent person.

G. K. Chesterton employed an instance of this saying in a 1935 short story. Chesterton’s story narrator disclaimed credit for the remark. Details are given further below.

The attribution to Chesterton may have occurred due to the following known misquotation mechanism: A famous person uses a quotation which is already in circulation. A cavalier reader reassigns the quotation to the famous person.

Here are additional selected citations and comments.

Continue reading Paradox Is Truth Standing On Its Head To Attract Attention

Notes:

  1. 1898 April, The Review of Reviews, Volume 17, Edited by W. T. Stead (William Thomas Stead), Section: The Topic of the Month, Article: The Jubilee of the Awakening of 1848, Start Page 339, Quote Page 339, Column 1, Published at the Office of the Review of Reviews, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

The Smallest Good Deed Is Better Than the Grandest Good Intention

Oscar Wilde? Jacques Joseph Duguet? Claude Joseph Dorat? Henry Ward Beecher? Gaspard Dughet? H. Jackson Brown? John Burroughs? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Hoping and dreaming are not enough; taking action is crucial. Here are two pertinent statements:

  • The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.
  • The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.

Would you please examine this family of sayings?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1863 within the French journal “Le Magasin Pittoresque” (“The Picturesque Store”) . A filler item stated the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Ne préférez jamais une grande bonne intention à une petite bonne action. UN AUTEUR ANGLAIS.

Here is one possible translation into English:

Never prefer a great good intention to a small good action.
AN ENGLISH AUTHOR.

The attribution did not specify the name of the English author, and QI would label the source anonymous based on current knowledge.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Smallest Good Deed Is Better Than the Grandest Good Intention

Notes:

  1. 1863, Le Magasin Pittoresque (The Picturesque Store), Volume 31, (Filler item), Quote Page 396, Column 1, Aux Bureaux D’Abonnement et de Vente, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link

Rhyme Does Not Pay

Dorothy Parker? Oscar Wilde? Mike Porter? Arch Ward? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Composing poetry is rarely a lucrative occupation. A traditional moralistic adage has been transformed into a comical warning for versifiers:

  • Crime does not pay.
  • Rhyme does not pay.

This word play has been credited to the prominent wit Dorothy Parker who published multiple collections of poetry. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in 1934 within a column by Martin A. Gosch in the “Evening Courier” of Camden, New Jersey. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

… a prize gag from colleague Mike Porter: Edith Murray, the CBS songbird, started out in life as a poet, but found that Rhyme does not pay!!

Dorothy Parker received credit for the quip by June 1938 as shown further below, but it was already in circulation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Rhyme Does Not Pay

Notes:

  1. 1934 January 16, Evening Courier, By Gosh! by Martin A. Gosch (Courier-Post Radio Editor), Quote Page 16, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

George M. Cohan? P. T. Barnum? Mae West? Elinor Glyn? Babe Ruth? Damon Runyon? James J. Johnston? Charley Murphy? Max Schmeling? Walter Winchell? Oscar Wilde? Samuel Johnson? Ed Sullivan?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person once planned to write an article or book containing derogatory material about a celebrity. The unruffled response of the celebrity to this prospect was surprising. Here are three versions:

  1. I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.
  2. I don’t care how much you pan me, but please spell the name correctly.
  3. Boost me or knock me; it doesn’t mean a thing. Just make sure you spell my name right.

This notion has been credited to Broadway musical icon George M. Cohan, showman P. T. Barnum, actress Mae West, baseball slugger Babe Ruth, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in several U.S. newspapers in 1888. The line was delivered by P. T. Barnum who was a founder of Barnum & Bailey Circus. He also operated a museum filled with curiosities and hoaxes. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

P. T. Barnum was once interviewed by a woman who told him that she was writing a book, and that it would contain something disagreeable about him. “No matter, madam,” was his reply, “say anything you like about me, but spell my name right — P. T. B-a-r-n-u-m, P. T. Barnum — and I’ll be pleased anyway.” The blackmailer retired in confusion.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

Notes:

  1. 1888 August 8, The Evening News, The Table Gossip, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

I Really Don’t Mind What People Do, So Long As They Don’t Do It In the Street and Frighten the Horses

Mrs. Patrick Campbell? Beatrice Stella Tanner? Helen Maud Tree? Oscar Wilde? Linkum Fidelius? Washington Irving? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Eric Erskine Wood? Mrs. Claude Beddington? Frances Ethel Beddington? John Moore? King Edward VII? Ronald Reagan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Enforcing societal norms and taboos is an important activity for some people. Others hesitate to proscribe conduct. They are broad-minded about unconventional behaviors. Here are two versions of a humorous remark reflecting the latter perspective:

(1) I don’t care what anybody does, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.

(2) There is no harm provided they don’t do it in the street and scare the horses.

This saying has been credited to Beatrice Stella Tanner, Helen Maud Tree, Oscar Wilde and others, Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the saying evolved over time. A partial instance appeared in “The Lancaster Daily Intelligencer” of Pennsylvania in 1879. An article mentioned that families with servants sometimes required them to wear special clothing whenever the leading member of the family died. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The fashion prevails in New York of putting the servants into mourning on the death of the head of the family, as in Europe, so it happens then many of the coachmen strikingly resemble, with their white cravats and long single-breasted black coats of the M. B. pattern, a ritualistic clergyman. “Taste is taste,” as Linkum Fidelius sagely remarks. So long as they don’t frighten the horses it matters little.

Linkum Fidelius was a comically erudite character appearing in the works of the prominent U.S. writer Washington Irving. This version of the expression did not include a reference to the street.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Really Don’t Mind What People Do, So Long As They Don’t Do It In the Street and Frighten the Horses

Notes:

  1. 1879 October 2, The Lancaster Daily Intelligencer (Intelligencer Journal), Wit and Wisdom: Fresh Gleanings From the Fruitful Harvest of American Humor, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)