I Spent a Week in Philadelphia One Sunday

W. C. Fields? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Humorous remarks about Philadelphia are often credited to the well-known actor and comic W. C. Fields. In the past the activities and nightlife in Philadelphia were limited because of strict laws. Hence, time seemed to move slowly, and someone created the following quip:

I spent a week in Philadelphia one day.

Was W. C. Fields responsible for this joke?

Quote Investigator:  The earliest evidence for this jest located by QI appeared in 1908 in a magazine called “Life”. The cartoon containing the joke had an elaborate signature affixed, but QI does not know who drew this comical illustration. Two men in bowler hats discussing the city were depicted [LPCB]:

“. . . AND I SPENT A WEEK IN PHILADELPHIA.”
“WHEN?”
“DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY.”

The quip appeared many times in the following decades but the earliest evidence found by QI of a connection to W. C. Fields did not appear until the 1970s. In 1972 an article in the Washington Post described a social event celebrating the birth date of W. C. Fields [WPWF]

A group of Philadelphia businessmen are throwing a 92d birthday party for the late comedian at a local “Y,” which has a no-liquor rule. They’ll show old Fields films, give guests a chance to kick a stuffed dog and insult a live child—all in an effort to keep alive Philadelphia’s heritage. But ginger ale? It makes it easy to understand what Fields meant when he said that in one night he spent a week in Philadelphia.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading I Spent a Week in Philadelphia One Sunday

Prayer Credited to St. Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi? La Clochette magazine? Friends’ Intelligencer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a very popular prayer that is usually credited to St. Francis of Assisi. It begins:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

What is known about this attribution? Is it correct?

Quote Investigator: Christian Renoux, an Associate Professor at the University of Orleans, France, investigated the origin of this prayer and was able to trace it back to an appearance in French in a magazine called “La Clochette” in 1912 where it was published anonymously. This research is discussed in a short article titled “The Origin of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis” which is available at a website of “The Franciscan Archive” here [CRSF].

There is no compelling support for an attribution to St. Francis. Renoux states that around 1920 the prayer was printed on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title ‘Prière pour la paix’ (Prayer for Peace). This suggests to QI a natural mechanism for the creation of the ascription to St. Francis.

In 1927 a version of the prayer appeared in English in a periodical called “Friends’ Intelligencer” published by the Religious Society of Friends also known as the Quakers. This is the earliest instance in English that QI has located. Immediately preceding the prayer the following attribution was given: “A prayer of St, Francis of Assissi”. Note the spelling of Assisi within the periodical used the letter “s” four times [FAFI]:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; and
where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love; for
it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Amen.

The text of the prayer above has been reformatted for readability. The passage in “Friends’ Intelligencer” was printed in two simple paragraphs with a break at the phrase “O Divine Master”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Prayer Credited to St. Francis of Assisi

Shirley Temple Visits a Department Store Santa Claus

Shirley Temple? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a funny anecdote about the young superstar Shirley Temple and her visit to Santa Claus when she was six. She began to question the story of toys distributed from the North Pole by Santa. Can you locate a version of this from Temple herself?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this anecdote that QI has located appeared in a newspaper in 1961. The byline indicated the source was the WNS news service [TPST]:

Shirley Temple said she stopped believing in Santa Claus when she went to visit him in a Los Angeles department store and Santa asked her for her autograph.

Temple may have been hasty in her judgment because even Santa or one of his helpers would have been awed by Shirley Temple’s box-office power in the 1930s.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Shirley Temple Visits a Department Store Santa Claus

Happiness Is Not a Matter of Intensity But of Balance, Order, Rhythm, and Harmony

Thomas Merton? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I’ve been wondering about the authenticity of a quote about happiness I came across some time ago. I’ve been unable to find a source so far.

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

It was supposedly said by Thomas Merton.

Quote Investigator: The attribution given is correct although the wording of the quotation is slightly different. The conjunction “and” is used three times in the original text. The words appeared in a collection of essays published in 1955 titled “No Man is an Island” in a chapter called “Being and Doing” [TMHI]:

We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm.

Here is some additional information.

Continue reading Happiness Is Not a Matter of Intensity But of Balance, Order, Rhythm, and Harmony

Some Spirit is Manifest in the Laws of the Universe, One that is Vastly Superior to that of Man

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did Albert Einstein say the following?

Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must seem humble.

When I search online for this sentence I get screen after screen of citations from people grinding religious axes, but never a source. I suspect Einstein really did say it, but I should love to be certain and to know the context.

Quote Investigator: In 1936 Albert Einstein sent a letter to a sixth-grade student named Phyllis Wright. The letter was written in Einstein’s native language of German and not in English. His note was complex, multi-layered, and difficult to translate into English. The missive did contain a section that expressed an opinion similar to the one in the text presented by the questioner. Further below QI will present three distinct translations of an excerpt from the letter corresponding to the passage above.

Einstein was replying to a query which was based on a topic of classroom discussion in a Sunday school course. Here is an excerpt from the note of Phyllis [PSAE]:

We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?

Einstein’s note was dated January 24, 1936 and reflected his multifaceted beliefs in the spiritual domain. Here is additional information together with a citation.

Continue reading Some Spirit is Manifest in the Laws of the Universe, One that is Vastly Superior to that of Man

You Have an Idea. I Have an Idea. We Swap. Now We Each Have Two Ideas.

George Bernard Shaw? SYSTEM magazine? Stanley B. Moore? Charles F. Brannan? Jimmy Durante? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a very valuable insight in the following saying that is credited to George Bernard Shaw:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

I’ve seen this quotation mentioned several times during discussions about intellectual property rights, open source software, and copyright. But I have never seen a precise reference. Could you track this one down?

Quote Investigator: QI has not located any compelling evidence that George Bernard Shaw made this remark. The earliest citation found by QI closely conforming to this theme was dated 1917. Apples were not mentioned in the following advertisement titled “The Difference Between Dollars and Ideas” for a magazine called SYSTEM that was printed in the Chicago Tribune newspaper. Instead of apples, dollars were swapped without perceptible advantage [CTSY]

You have a dollar.
I have a dollar.
We swap.
Now you have my dollar.
We are no better off.
• • •
You have an idea.
I have an idea.
We swap.
Now you have two ideas.
And I have two ideas.
• • •
That’s the difference.
• • •
There is another difference. A dollar does only so much work. It buys so many potatoes and no more. But an idea that fits your business may keep you in potatoes all your life. It may, incidentally, build you a palace to eat them in!
• • •
It was some such philosophy as this that brought the magazine SYSTEM into being sixteen years ago. SYSTEM was (and is) a swapping-place for business ideas.

The same advertisement for SYSTEM magazine was printed in other periodicals such as the New York Times [NYSY]. In succeeding decades the saying was rephrased and reprinted in a variety of publications and books.

The earliest evidence found by QI of apples being used for illustrative purposes instead of dollars was dated 1949, and the speaker was a Secretary of Agriculture in the United States. The words appeared in an education news journal which cited a television broadcast [NBCB]:

… if you have an apple and I have an apple, and we swap apples — we each end up with only one apple. But if you and I have an idea and we swap ideas — we each end up with two ideas.

— Charles F. Brannan, Secretary of Agriculture, from a broadcast over NBC, April 3, 1949

George Bernard Shaw was a famously witty individual and many adages of uncertain provenance have been credited to him. His name is powerfully magnetic in the world of quotations, and it attracts stray attributions. By 1974 the version of the saying with apples and ideas was ascribed to Shaw. The details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Have an Idea. I Have an Idea. We Swap. Now We Each Have Two Ideas.

America Is the Only Country That Went from Barbarism to Decadence Without Civilization In Between

Ogden Nash? George Bernard Shaw? James Agate? La Liberté? Winston Churchill? Henry James? Oscar Wilde? Georges Clemenceau?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous humorous saying about the United States that has been credited to four celebrated wits: George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, and Georges Clemenceau:

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without knowing civilization.

Could you reduce the uncertainty and determine who coined this acerbic comment?

Quote Investigator: A partial match of the quotation appeared in a French history text in 1841 which stated that the ruler of Russia pushed the country without transition from barbarism to decadence. Thanks to Dan Bye and the volunteer editors of Wikiquote for this citation: 1

… il fit passer son pays sans transition de la barbarie à la décadence, de l’enfance à la caducité.

In 1878 the prominent literary figure Henry James published a short story with a German character who remarked on the cultural evolution of the United States using a simile based on the maturation of fruit. The following passage is conceptually similar to the quotation, but the vocabulary is different. Thanks to correspondent Rand Careaga for this citation: 2

… unprecedented and unique in the history of mankind; the arrival of a nation at an ultimate stage of evolution without having passed through the mediate one; the passage of the fruit, in other words, from crudity to rottenness, without the interposition of a period of useful (and ornamental) ripeness. With the Americans, indeed, the crudity and the rottenness are identical and simultaneous;…

The earliest evidence known to QI of a close match for this expression was published in 1926 in The Sunday Times of London. Interestingly, the country being lacerated was Russia and not the United States. In addition, none of the four gentlemen mentioned by the questioner was credited with the words.

The theatre reviewer, James Agate, saw a production of the work “Katerina” by Andreyev, and he was deeply unsympathetic to the behaviors displayed by the characters. 3 Boldface added below: 4

Everything that happens to Andreyev’s characters is repugnant to the English sense of what would, should, or could happen to people laying claim to ordinary, i.e. English sanity. This being so, the temptation is to cast about for excuses, to pity Russia for having been left out of the Roman march, and so passing from barbarism to decadence without knowing civilisation, or to talk about “retrogressive metamorphism” and the way this country has been steadily breaking Europe down ever since, in the time of Peter the Great, she first began to absorb European culture.

Special thanks to correspondent Robert Rosenberg who identified this pivotal early instance.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading America Is the Only Country That Went from Barbarism to Decadence Without Civilization In Between

Notes:

  1. 1841, Histoire des Progrès de la Civilisation en Europe by Hippolyte Roux-Ferrand, Volume 6, Quote Page 72, Chez L. Hachette. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1881, Washington Square; The Pension Beaurepas; A Bundle of Letters by Henry James, Volume 2, (A Bundle of Letters; short story reprinted from The Parisian, 1878), Start Page 198, Quote Page 266, Macmillan and Co., London. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1944, Red Letter Nights by James Agate, (Review by James Agate of the play Katerina by Leonid Andreyev; starring John Gielgud and Frances Carson; Review is dated April 3, 1926 in book), Start Page 112, Quote Page 113, Jonathan Cape Ltd., London, UK. (Internet Archive) link
  4. 1926 April 4, The Sunday Times (UK), The Dramatic World: Those Russians Again by James Agate, (Review of the play Katerina by Andreyev performed on March 31), Quote Page 4, London, England. (Gale’s Sunday Times Digital Archive; thanks to Fred Shapiro and Dan J. Bye for accessing this database)

The Main Thing Is Honesty. If You Can Fake That, You’ve Got It Made

Groucho Marx? George Burns? Jean Giraudoux? Celeste Holm? Ed Nelson? Samuel Goldwyn? Daniel Schorr? Joe Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest advice I was ever given as a sales associate was from another seasoned employee:

The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Later, I read or heard this type of advice several times. For example, a television actor being interviewed said something like:

The secret of success is sincerity. Fake that and you’re in.

The expression varies but the basic joke is the same. Could you explore this saying to see where it began?

Quote Investigator:  Groucho Marx, Samuel Goldwyn, and George Burns have each been credited with versions of this remark. George Burns did include a version in his third memoir in 1980, but this was a relatively late date. QI has located no substantive evidence supporting an ascription to Marx or Goldwyn.

The earliest evidence QI has found for this type of remark appeared in a syndicated newspaper column by Leonard Lyons in 1962. The popular Oscar-winning actress Celeste Holm attributed the words to an anonymous theater actor [LLCH]:

Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. invited a panel of performers – including Celeste Holm and Shelly Berman – to discuss the trends in show business. Miss Holm spoke of the vogues in acting, and said she heard one actor say: “Honesty. That’s the thing in the theater today. Honesty … and just as soon as I can learn to fake that, I’ll have it made.”

In 1969 an actor named Ed Nelson who played the character Dr. Michael Rossi on the soap opera Peyton Place stated a version of the maxim in Life magazine. QI believes that multiple later occurrences of the expression can be traced back to this instance, but usually the actor’s name was omitted [ENPP]:

… Ed Nelson (Dr. Rossi) summed up what he had learned in his five years on the show. “I’ve found that the most important thing for an actor is honesty,” he said. “And when you learn how to fake that, you’re in.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Main Thing Is Honesty. If You Can Fake That, You’ve Got It Made

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer in San Francisco

Locale: San Francisco, California? Paris, France? Duluth, Minnesota? Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

Originator: Mark Twain? Horace Walpole? James Quin? R. Q. Grant? Lord Byron? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Living in Menlo Park near San Francisco I have heard the following witticism credited to Mark Twain many times:

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.

I actually enjoy the weather here, so this saying always seemed implausible to me. Also, the San Francisco Chronicle once printed an article that cast doubt on the Twain attribution. Can you figure out who created this joke? Also, was the remark originally about SF or some other locale?

Quote Investigator: There is no evidence in the papers and speeches of Mark Twain that he ever made this remark about San Francisco. There is a letter discussed below from Twain in which he commented on a similar type of jest, but he expressed unhappiness with the weather of Paris and not San Francisco.

Top-flight researcher Stephen Goranson located the earliest known evidence of this joke-type in a letter written by Horace Walpole, a prominent literary figure and politician in England. Walpole attributed the remark to James Quin, a leading actor in London in the 1700s. This jest is distinct but it is closely related to the quip given by the questioner. The location of the cold weather was not specified. The letter was written during the summer of 1789 in July [HWJQ]:

Quin, being once asked if he had ever seen so bad a winter, replied, “Yes, just such an one last summer!”—and here is its youngest brother!

This comical observation and its ascription reached the attention of Mark Twain who mentioned it in a letter in 1880 while criticizing Parisian climate. The text of the letter is viewable at the authoritative Mark Twain Project Online [MTJQ]:

… for anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the Damnable. More than a hundred years ago somebody asked Quin, “Did you ever see such a winter in all your life before?” “Yes,” said he, “Last summer.” I judge he spent his summer in Paris.

Several fine researchers have noted the existence of this letter linking Twain to the quip about cold weather including Ralph Keyes [NGRK] [QVRK], Fred Shapiro [YQMT], and Barbara Schmidt [TQSF].

The modern phrasing of the saying was used by the beginning of the 1900s, but the initial target of the barb was not San Francisco. Instead, the joke was directed at a genuinely frosty locale: Duluth, Minnesota. The Duluth News-Tribune in 1900 recounted a version of the saying while using a belligerently defensive tone [DNDM]:

One of these days somebody will tell that mouldy chestnut about the finest winter he ever saw being the summer he spent in Duluth, and one of these husky commercial travelers, who have been here and know all about our climate, will smite him with an uppercut and break his slanderous jaw. The truth will come out in time.

The above instance in 1900 used the word “finest” instead of “coldest”. In June 1901 in a Kentucky newspaper an employee of the weather bureau deployed a version of the saying that closely matched a modern template. Once again the weather in Duluth was the subject [KYDM]:

In a recent conversation with Mr. R. Q. Grant, of the State College Weather Bureau, a Herald reporter learned that the life of the employes of the United States Weather Bureau service is one filled with interesting experiences. …

Later Mr. Grant was sent to Pike’s Peak, where he established the station now there. Another assignment was to Duluth, Minn., where he learned to appreciate rapid changes in temperature. He says the coldest winter he ever experienced was the summer he spent in Duluth.

Over a span of more than one hundred years many locations were substituted into this jest including: Milwaukee, Two Harbors, Grand Marais, Puget Sound, Buffalo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

Note that Mark Twain lived until 1910, so the expression was being used while he was still alive. Yet, the words were not attributed to him in any of the early instances. The first citation found by QI in which Twain’s name was invoked was dated 1928 and the subject was Duluth. The details are recorded further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer in San Francisco

You Must Know Your Destination Port If You Wish to Catch A Favorable Wind

Oscar Wilde? Seneca the Younger? Leon Tec?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I came across a quotation in a pub in Germany that was credited to Oscar Wilde. Your help in tracing this expression would be greatly appreciated but there is a twist to this request that will probably increase the difficulty. I have not been able to find this quote in its original English language version. All I could find on the web was the German phrase as I saw it in the pub. Here is the saying together with a translation:

Günstige Winde kann nur der nutzen, der weiß, wohin er will.

Only he can make use of favourable winds who knows where he wants to go.

I know that Oscar Wilde attracts a large number of spurious attributions. Could you search for the original version of this aphorism and determine who said it?

Quote Investigator: QI has not located any substantive evidence connecting this saying to Oscar Wilde. Intriguingly, the earliest evidence points to a maxim that was written in Latin and not English. During classical antiquity Seneca the Younger wrote about ports and catching a favorable wind. Here is the Latin version of one of his adages together with an English translation [SYDC]:

Ignoranti quem portum petat, nullus suus ventus est.

If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favourable to him.

Seneca. Epistolae, LXXI., 3.

The wording and the emphasis in the above maxim differs somewhat from the content of the quotation provided by the questioner. However, over the years other writers have modified Seneca’s saying. Here is a modern example attributed to Seneca in a volume aimed at public speakers titled “The Speaker’s Sourcebook” which was published in 1988 [SYSP]:

You must know for which harbor you are headed if you are to catch the right wind to take you there. Seneca

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Must Know Your Destination Port If You Wish to Catch A Favorable Wind