People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf

George Orwell? Richard Grenier? Rudyard Kipling? Winston Churchill? John Le Carré? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant writer George Orwell authored two of the most powerful and acclaimed political books of the last century: 1984 and Animal Farm. The saying that interests me is usually attributed to him, and there are two popular versions:

We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf

I think these words are consistent with the sentiments Orwell expressed in essays, but I have read conflicting comments about whether these words are correctly ascribed to him. Would you trace the source of these statements?

Quote Investigator:There is no substantive evidence that George Orwell who died in 1950 made this remark. The earliest known matching statement appeared in a column in the Washington Times newspaper written by the film critic and essayist Richard Grenier in 1993: 1 2

As George Orwell pointed out, people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

It is important to note that Grenier did not use quotation marks around the statement of the view that he ascribed to Orwell. QI believes that Grenier was using his own words to present a summary of Orwell’s viewpoint. Later commentators placed the statement between quotation marks and introduced various modifications to the passage.

This is a known mechanism for the generation of misattributions. Person A summarizes, condenses, or restates the opinion of person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to person B.

Previous researchers located the key 1993 citation and found phrases in the works of Orwell and Kipling that contain parts of the idea expressed in the aphorism under investigation. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf

Notes:

  1. 1993 April 6, The Washington Times, Perils of Passive Sex by Richard Grenier, Page F3, Washington, D.C. (NewsBank)
  2. In 2009 the noted science fiction author William Gibson expressed an interest in identifying the origin of this saying. The important 1993 citation was mentioned in a forum post at the website of Gibson by an individual using the handle Caplewood who suggested that “Grenier made it up”; William Gibson Message Board, Message from Caplewood with timestamp: July 17, 2009 10:47 AM. (Accessed williamgibsonboard.com on November 5, 2011) link

Yes, I Am Drunk, But Tomorrow I Will Be Sober, And You Will Still Be a Fool

Winston Churchill? W. C. Fields? Robinson? Dr. Tanner? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous anecdote featuring Winston Churchill and the British politician Bessie Braddock that I think is fictional. Supposedly Braddock encountered an intoxicated Churchill and said “Sir, you are drunk.” He replied:

And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.

Websites disagree about Churchill’s exact words. But I think this whole story was concocted based on a scene in a W. C. Fields film that was released in the 1930s. The film is called “It’s a Gift” and in the script a character hostile to Fields says to him “You’re drunk.” His sharp rejoinder is:

Yeah, and you’re crazy, n’ I’ll be sober tomorrow n’ you’ll be crazy for the rest of your life.

Do you think that someone invented the Churchill tale after seeing this movie?

Quote Investigator: Your skepticism is understandable, but there is some evidence discussed later in this post in the form of testimony from Churchill’s bodyguard that there was an exchange with Braddock.

Nevertheless, this basic joke has a very long history, and the earliest version located by QI is more than one hundred and twenty-five years old. The English raconteur Augustus John Cuthbert Hare kept a diary and the entry dated July 16, 1882 recounts an incident involving a member of the House of Parliament identified only by the initials A.B. [AJCH]:

The great A.B. was tremendously jostled the other day in going down to the House. A.B. didn’t like it. “Do you know who I am?” he said; “I am a Member of Parliament and I am Mr. A.B.” – “I don’t know about that,” said one of the roughs, “but I know that you’re a damned fool.” – “You’re drunk,” said A.B.; “you don’t know what you’re saying.” – “Well, perhaps I am rather drunk to-night,” said the man, “but I shall be sober to-morrow morning; but you’re a damned fool tonight, and you’ll be a damned fool to-morrow morning.”

This general anecdote was retold numerous times with different individuals in the roles during subsequent years. Eventually W. C. Fields and then Churchill inhabited the role of the quipster. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Yes, I Am Drunk, But Tomorrow I Will Be Sober, And You Will Still Be a Fool

Golf: Hit a Very Small Ball into an Even Smaller Hole, with Weapons Singularly Ill-Designed for the Purpose

Winston Churchill? Woodrow Wilson? George Curzon? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Friends know I am an avid golfer and recently a book of quotations about the sport was given to me as a present. This quote from Winston Churchill captures the exasperation I feel when attempting to chip my ball near to the pin [GBGQ]:

Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.

When I tried to determine when Churchill uttered this assessment I discovered that some people think former President Woodrow Wilson was really responsible for the saying. Maybe you can resolve this question?

Quote Investigator: Variants of this saying have been attributed to both Churchill and Wilson for decades, but the earliest example located by QI occurred in 1892 in the famed London humor magazine Punch. The article “Confessions of a Duffer” by an unnamed contributor included a version of the quotation that used somewhat different phrasing [PLDG]:

Almost everybody now knows that Golf is not Hockey. Nobody runs after the ball except young ladies at W-m-n! The object is to put a very small ball into a very tiny and remotely distant hole, with engines singularly ill adapted for the purpose.

The term with deleted letters: “W-m-n” may have referred to Wimbledon, London. In May 1891 a membership group of 145 women opened their own nine-hole golf course on Wimbledon Common land [RWGC]. The term “engines” referred to the golf clubs used to propel the ball around the course as shown in the following:

There are many engines. First there is the Driver, a long club, wherewith the ball is supposed to be propelled from the tee, a little patch of sand.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Golf: Hit a Very Small Ball into an Even Smaller Hole, with Weapons Singularly Ill-Designed for the Purpose

When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

John Maynard Keynes? Paul Samuelson? Winston Churchill? Joan Robinson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: John Maynard Keynes was an enormously influential economist, but some of his detractors complained that the opinions he expressed tended to change over the years. Once during a high-profile government hearing a critic accused him of being inconsistent, and Keynes reportedly answered with one of the following:

When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?

When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?

Because there are so many different versions of this rejoinder I was hoping you might determine if any of them is real. Is there any truth to this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: No direct evidence that Keynes made a comment of this type has been located by QI or other researchers. The earliest statement found by QI that fits this template was not spoken by Keynes but by another prominent individual in the same field, Paul Samuelson who was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in economics. He was well-known to students for creating a best-selling economics textbook.

On December 20, 1970 he was interviewed by a panel on the television program “Meet the Press.” The transcript of the show was published the next day in the “Daily Labor Report” from the Bureau of National Affairs, Washington. Austin Kiplinger of Kiplinger Publications asked Samuelson about inflation. Boldface has been added to excerpts [PSDR]:

KIPLINGER: Returning to this matter of how much inflation we can absorb effectively, you may remember that Dr. Sumner Schlicter at Harvard shocked, I guess, the American Public after World War II when he said some inflation was not only inevitable but perhaps also desirable to promote growth. My question is do you agree with that general assessment and if so, how much should we have and how much is acceptable?

DR. SAMUELSON: I do agree with it and I suffer for expressing my agreement. Different editions of my textbook have been quoted. In the first edition I said a five percent rate is tolerable. Then I worked it down to three percent and then down to two percent and the AP carried a wire “Author Should Make Up His Mind.” Well when events change, I change my mind. What do you do?

Intriguingly, in 1978 Samuelson used a version of this expression again, and this time he credited the words to Keynes. His statement was reported in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Lindley H. Clark Jr. [PSWJ]:

Paul Samuelson, the Nobel laureate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recalled that John Maynard Keynes once was challenged for altering his position on some economic issue. “When my information changes,” he remembered that Keynes had said, “I change my mind. What do you do?”

It is possible that Samuelson was consciously or unconsciously echoing a remark of Keynes when he spoke in 1970, but there is no compelling support for this because he did not credit Keynes during the television interview.

Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

Why Should Any Man Be Allowed to Buy a Printing Press and Disseminate Pernicious Opinions?

Vladimir Lenin? Winston Churchill? George Riddell? H. L. Mencken? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: I was thumbing through The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations to try and find a good saying about freedom of the press and I was stunned to see this hostile sentence [OPQ]:

As to freedom of the press, why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?

These words were attributed to Winston Churchill based on a 1984 biography by Piers Brendon [WPB]. But these same words were attributed to Vladimir Lenin in another collection of quotations I read recently and that is why I was astounded. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the book. Now I am starting to doubt my memory. Could you research this quote?

Quote Investigator: Thanks for a fascinating puzzle. Indeed, most of this sentence does appear as part of a longer passage that is attributed to Vladimir Lenin in a famous compilation published in 1942 called “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken”. The name Nikolai Lenin is used instead of Vladimir Lenin in Mencken’s reference work [NQL]:

Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?

NIKOLAI LENIN: Speech in Moscow, 1920

QI has traced this expression back to a diary entry that was written in 1920 by George Riddell who was a powerful newspaperman and close friend of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George. Riddell later became the 1st Baron Riddell. The text in Mencken’s reference is very similar to the text in Riddell’s diary, but it is not identical.

Riddell mentioned both Churchill and Lenin in a crucial passage of his diary. But QI believes that Riddell was describing a speech by Lenin and not the words of Churchill. Hence, QI thinks that the ascription to Churchill is almost certainly incorrect.

Continue reading Why Should Any Man Be Allowed to Buy a Printing Press and Disseminate Pernicious Opinions?