Category Archives: Samuel Butler

Do Not Be So Open-Minded That Your Brains Fall Out

Carl Sagan? Arthur Hays Sulzberger? Marianne Moore? E. E Cummings? William Allan Neilson? Walter Kotschnig? Samuel Butler? G. K. Chesterton? Max Radin? James Oberg? Anonymous?

open07Dear Quote Investigator: There is a desirable balance between exploring novel ideas with an open mind and maintaining a healthy skepticism. The following humorous cautionary statement exemplifies the tension:

Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

I have heard this expression attributed to New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Smith College President William Allan Neilson, and astronomer Carl Sagan. Do you know who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published close match located by QI appeared in a newspaper report in January 1940 about a speech by Walter Kotschnig given at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Kotschnig worked with refugee organizations early in his career and subsequently joined the United States State Department. Boldface has been added: 1 2

Prof. Walter Kotschnig told Holyoke College students to keep their minds open—“but not so open that your brains fall out.”

He condemned the purpose of students who go to college merely to learn skill and urged his listeners to find the “real aim of education, to acquire a philosophy of life, intellectual honesty, and a constant search for truth.”

QI has also located an article published in February 1940 describing a speech delivered by Kotschnig in November 1939. This citation had the second earliest publication date for a close match; however, the date of the speech was the earliest. Details are given further below.

The same metaphor was used in 1937; however, the phrasing was condemnatory instead of cautionary. Details for this citation are given further below. The comical notion that an open mind might lead to a mind with “nothing in it at all” was suggested much earlier in 1886.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1940 January 27, Blytheville Courier News, Professor Tells Students to Open Minds to Truth, Quote Page 2, Column 2 and 3, Blytheville, Arkansas. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1940 February 1, The Canton Repository (Repository), “Open Mind to Truth, Holyoke Class Told” Quote Page 12, Column 8, Canton, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Any Fool Can Paint a Picture, But It Takes a Wise Person To Be Able To Sell It

Samuel Butler? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

butler07Dear Quote Investigator: I’ve always wanted to be an artist. But digitization and the internet have upended so many domains, e.g., music, photography, graphic art, and books. Now there are artists raising money on Kickstarter. Apparently, you cannot simply create a work of art; you must personally market and promote it. I’m trying to recall a statement by the controversial nineteenth century novelist Samuel Butler. Here is my vague memory:

Any fool can create a piece of art. Only a wise person can sell it.

The cogency of this adage has grown over the years. Can you tell me what Butler actually said?

Quote Investigator: Butler did make a remark of this type about painting. The statement was published posthumously in a book titled “Further Extracts from the Note-Books of Samuel Butler”. The introduction explained that Butler filled a sequence of notebooks over a long period of time with miscellaneous jottings: 1

Early in life Samuel Butler acquired the habit of carrying a Note-Book and of writing down in it anything he wanted to remember; it might be something he heard someone say, more often it was something he said himself. Or perhaps it was the germ of a passage in whatever book he happened to be writing at the moment.

Butler consolidated material on small notebooks by copying it to larger notebooks, and he sometimes revised his writings. The adage about painting was the following: 2

Any fool can paint a picture but it takes a wise man to be able to sell it.

The above text was written in a notebook sometime between 1883 and 1887, and it may have been revised sometime between 1897 and 1898. Butler died in 1902, and the notebook extracts containing the quotation were published in 1934.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1934, Further Extracts from the Note-Books of Samuel Butler by Samuel Butler, Chosen and edited by A. T. Bartholomew,”Art Note”, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page 5, Published by Jonathan Cape, London. (Questia)
  2. 1934, Further Extracts from the Note-Books of Samuel Butler by Samuel Butler, Chosen and edited by A. T. Bartholomew,”Art Note”, Quote Page 175, Published by Jonathan Cape, London. (Questia)