Capitalism: The Nastiest of Men for the Nastiest of Motives Will Somehow Work for the Benefit of All

John Maynard Keynes? E. A. G. Robinson? Fictional? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many times I have seen the following quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes:

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

I cannot find a source. Also, I do not believe that Lord Keynes would ever say “most wickedest”. (I have seen the quote without the two “most”s.) It’s a pretty well-turned phrase though, so somebody must have said it. I thought maybe Shaw had something like this but have come up blank there, too. Someone from the Muckraker Era? Lincoln Steffens? Upton Sinclair? Anyway, Doctor, would you look into this?

Quote Investigator: Note, QI researches sayings that embody a variety of different viewpoints. This interesting quote has engaged the curiosity of many people. There is another similar maxim attributed to Keynes:

Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.

This variant using the word “nastiest” appeared before the instance using the word “wickedest”, and QI believes that the “wickedest” version was created by modifying the earlier statement. This blog post will primarily trace the first variant that uses the word “nastiest”.

The earliest known attribution of the saying to Keynes was found by the outstanding researcher Ken Hirsch who shared his knowledge via Wikiquote [WJK]. The words appeared in 1951 in the book “Christianity and Human Relations in Industry” within a discussion of free markets and “the doctrine of the hidden hand” [CHR]:

… as J. M. Keynes used to put it, ‘the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds’.

The subphrase “the best results in the best of all possible worlds” alludes to Voltaire’s satirical character Dr. Pangloss and his philosophy in “Candide”. Indeed, the entire statement credited to Keynes has a satirical edge. However, Keynes died in 1946 and this statement has not been found in his writings.

QI has located a similar remark that appeared a decade earlier in 1941 in a book written by a close colleague of Keynes named E. A. G. Robinson (Edward Austin Gossage Robinson) titled “Monopoly” [ERM]:

The great merit of the capitalist system, it has been said, is that it succeeds in using the nastiest motives of nasty people for the ultimate benefit of society.

Robinson did not attribute this description of the capitalist system to Keynes; instead, he used the locution “it has been said”. Hence there is no clear attribution beyond Robinson himself.

Robinson worked with Keynes, and it is possible that he heard the phrase from Keynes. Alternatively, Keynes may have read the phrase in Robinson’s book and repeated it to someone else. But there is no direct evidence for either of these conjectures. It is commonplace for quotations to be reassigned to individuals of greater prominence. Thus, it is possible that Robinson’s quote was slightly altered and then simply reattributed to Keynes who was a famous economist in 1951 as he is today.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Capitalism: The Nastiest of Men for the Nastiest of Motives Will Somehow Work for the Benefit of All

Gift Book: A Book Which You Wouldn’t Take on Any Other Terms

Dorothy Parker? Walter Winchell? Fictional? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I gave a close friend a book as a gift, and on the accompanying card I included a quotation that Dorothy Parker once used in a book review:

This must be a gift book. That is to say, a book which you wouldn’t take on any other terms.

After reading about so many false attributions on this website I decided to check this quote. Initially, I was happy to discover that several texts agreed that Dorothy Parker employed the quip while reviewing a work by Lucius Beebe called “Shoot If You Must”. But mystification followed because the book does not exist. There are two books titled “Shoot If You Must”: one written by Richard Powell and another written by C. D’W. Gibson. Lucius Beebe never wrote a book with that title.

A precise citation for Dorothy Parker’s book review was not given in any of the places I looked. There is an online database for The New Yorker magazine, and I searched it because that is where Parker published many of her book reviews; however, I could not find the saying. Is this another fake Dorothy Parker witticism?

Quote Investigator: Your quest for accuracy is admirable and QI sympathizes because he encountered similar difficulties while exploring the history of this saying. Lucius Beebe did write a book that was reviewed by Dorothy Parker. But the title used wordplay, and it was called: “Snoot If You Must” and not “Shoot If You Must”. In the December 11, 1943 issue of the “Saturday Review of Literature” Parker ended her review with this comment [SRB]:

I see that Mr. Beebe’s “Snoot If You Must” (it is surely some dark, dark masochism that makes me say that title again) is widely advertised for the Christmas trade. It must be what I believe is known as a gift book. That is to say, a book which you wouldn’t take on any other terms.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Gift Book: A Book Which You Wouldn’t Take on Any Other Terms

I Never Smoked Astroturf

Tug McGraw? Joe Namath? Charles Edward Greene? Bill Lee? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: I laughed out loud when I read the answer given by Major League Baseball star Tug McGraw when he was asked whether he preferred grass or Astroturf:

I dunno. I never smoked any Astroturf.

This quote appeared in a newspaper article last year listing the most bizarre quotes in sport [BQI]. But when I searched online I found that some websites claim Joe Namath, the great football quarterback, said it. Did Namath or McGraw really say this? Maybe it was made up and added to McGraw’s other wacky sayings?

Quote Investigator: There is strong evidence that McGraw did utter a version of this quip when he played for the Mets. An article in The Times of San Mateo, California on April 30, 1974 contains an interview with McGraw in which he repeats the saying and indicates that he spoke the words on television the previous day [TMA]:

Back in the Mets’ locker room, McGraw laughed and said that he might get in trouble for something he said as a guest on a San Francisco TV talk show the day before. “A young boy called up and asked me if I preferred grass or astroturf,” chuckled Tug. “And I told him that I had never smoked astroturf. I guess that I shouldn’t have said that.”

“But I think that is part of why baseball isn’t as popular today as it used to be before World War II. People don’t look at players as human beings like they used to.”

The phrasing used by McGraw for this initial version of the quip is not very clear and concise. Unsurprisingly, it was altered in subsequent reportage. QI has not seen video footage of the TV talk show, so he does not know what McGraw said on camera.

The saying has also been ascribed to other sports figures such as football quarterback: Joe Namath (Broadway Joe Namath), football defensive tackle: Charles Edward Greene (Mean Joe Greene), and baseball pitcher: Bill Lee (Bill Spaceman Lee). But these attributions appeared in later years and may be imitative and/or apocryphal.

Here are additional select citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Smoked Astroturf

Darwinism: Let Us Hope It is Not True, But If It is, Let Us Pray It Does Not Become Widely Known

Wife of the Bishop of Worcester? Wife of the Bishop of Birmingham? Wife of Samuel Wilberforce? Wife of an English Canon? A Decorous Spinster? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a remarkable quotation that dramatically highlights the controversial intersection between science and religion in the nineteenth century. The words were attributed to a Bishop’s wife in an anecdote in the book “Origins” by the paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and the science writer Roger Lewin: 1

On hearing, one June afternoon in 1860, the suggestion that mankind was descended from the apes, the wife of the Bishop of Worcester is said to have exclaimed, ‘My dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.’ As it turns out, she need not have been quite so worried: we are not descended from the apes, though we do share a common ancestor with them. Even though the distinction may have been too subtle to offer her much comfort, it is nevertheless important.

This mordant tale has always deeply impressed me. So, I was rather confused when I came across another version of the anecdote from Nicholas Humphrey, a Professor at the London School of Economics: 2

When, in the 1880s, the Bishop of Birmingham’s wife received information that Charles Darwin was claiming that human beings were descended from monkeys, she is reported to have said to her husband, ‘My dear, let us hope it is not true; but, if it is true, let us hope it will not become generally known.’

Worcester or Birmingham? 1860 or 1880s? Could you resolve these discrepancies and find the historically accurate version of this quote? My research only left me more puzzled.

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this popular, colorful, and didactic tale is apocryphal. When QI began exploring this quotation he quickly located another inconsistent version of the story in a book titled “The Altruistic Species” which mentions “the famous response of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce’s wife upon learning of Darwin’s theory: ‘Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us hope it does not become widely known'”. 3

Samuel Wilberforce was a well-known orator who engaged in a famous debate concerning evolution at Oxford. He was the Bishop of Oxford and then of Winchester, but he was never the Bishop of Worcester or Birmingham. 4

Charles Darwin’s monumental work On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. QI has located no evidence for the existence of this quotation in the 1860s, 1870s, or 1880s. The earliest citation known to QI appeared in an 1893 text titled “Verbum Dei: The Yale Lectures on Preaching”. In this volume a variant of the quote appeared within a lecture written by a British pastor named Robert Forman Horton. The words were attributed to a spinster and not to a married woman: 5

The Church swarms with people who have no spiritual sinew, and whose lungs cannot breathe the invigorating air of Truth: they take up the cry of that timid and decorous spinster who, on hearing an exposition of the Darwinian theory that men are descended from apes, said, “Let us hope it is not true, or if it is, let us hush it up.”

QI believes that this basic anecdote was incrementally transformed over many decades to generate multiple modern instantiations of the story. The details of these tales change over time, but they do not appear to be based on firm historical evidence.

Conceivably there exists a diary entry or newspaper account that is contemporaneous with the 1860s or 1880s, but QI has not yet found it. None of the modern accounts examined by QI provide citations to data of the relevant period. The preponderance of evidence indicates that current narratives for this tale have been heavily fictionalized.

Here is a selected subset of citations arranged in chronological order.
Continue reading Darwinism: Let Us Hope It is Not True, But If It is, Let Us Pray It Does Not Become Widely Known


  1. 1977, Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal About the Emergence of our Species and Its Possible Future by Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin, Page 21, E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1996 (UK Publish 1995), Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation by Nicholas Humphrey, Page 7, BasicBooks Division of HarperCollins, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2007, The Altruistic Species: Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives of Human Benevolence” by Andrew Michael Flescher and Daniel L. Worthen, Page 130, Templeton Foundation Press, Philadelphia and London. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2006, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Ed. E. A. Livingstone, “Wilberforce, Samuel”, Oxford University Press. (Oxford Reference Online; Accessed 2011 February 7)
  5. 1893, Verbum Dei: The Yale Lectures on Preaching by Robert Forman Horton, Lecture IV: The Bible and the Word of God, Page 132, Macmillan and Co., New York and London. (Google Books full view) link

You Have Reached the Pinnacle of Success as Soon as You Become Uninterested in Money, Compliments, or Publicity

Thomas Wolfe? Orlando Aloysius Battista? Eddie Rickenbacker? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While searching for quotations about success I found the following:

You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity.

Several web pages credit this saying to the famous writer Thomas Wolfe, but I’ve read “Look Homeward, Angel” and Wolfe’s style seems very different. Maybe he wrote in multiple styles, but I didn’t see a specific reference to a location in his writing. Could you explore this?

Quote Investigator: QI shares your skepticism and believes that this saying was actually created by a man named Orlando Aloysius Battista who specialized in constructing epigrams. Battista was an accomplished chemist who also devoted considerable effort to composing and disseminating thousands of his original aphorisms via books and a syndicated newspaper column. He trademarked the term Quotoons and often used it to refer to his creations.

The earliest citation QI has located for this quote is in a collection of sayings compiled and published by Laurence J. Peter in 1977 called “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time”. The expression is credited to “Dr. O. A. Battista” [PQB]. Here are additional citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Have Reached the Pinnacle of Success as Soon as You Become Uninterested in Money, Compliments, or Publicity

What You Do Speaks So Loudly that I Cannot Hear What You Say

John F. Kennedy? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In 1960 President John F. Kennedy spoke at that Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah and used a quotation that he attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson [JKU]:

What we are speaks louder than what we say, as Emerson said.

I was surprised when I came across this because my favorite saying about hypocrisy is the following:

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

I thought these words were written by Emerson, but now I am not so certain. Did Emerson express this idea in more than one way? Did Kennedy employ a misquotation? Surprisingly, I could not find either of these statements in a database of Emerson’s essays. Could you help me to unravel this?

Quote Investigator:The first quotation below is directly from an essay titled “Social Aims” by Ralph Waldo Emerson published in 1875. The other six quotes appeared in the years afterward. Most are credited to Emerson, but one is ascribed to a “great man”, and another is anonymous. It is remarkably commonplace for a popular saying to be simplified and streamlined over time:

1) Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.

2) Don’t talk. What you are thunders so loudly above what you say that I cannot hear you.

3) Be still, for what you are stands over you and speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.

4) What you are stands over you and thunders, and denies what you say.

5) What you are, thunders so loud that I cannot hear what you say.

6) What you are speaks so loud I can not hear what you say

7) What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.

The ordering of the sayings given above is based on perceived simplification and not chronology. All of these items were published on or before 1900. The last item appeared in a sermon published in 1900, and the parishioners were told that the wisdom emanated from Emerson.

The variant that is the questioner’s favorite is nearly identical to item seven which has been ascribed to Emerson for more than one-hundred years. The words “loud” and “loudly” have been swapped. QI thinks that both quotations presented by the questioner are abridged and simplified forms of what Emerson actually wrote.

This belief concurs with quotation expert Ralph Keyes who identified saying number one above as the likely impetus for the modern sayings numbered six and seven [QVRE]. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What You Do Speaks So Loudly that I Cannot Hear What You Say

I Did It For My Own Pleasure. Then I Did It For My Friends. Now I Do It For Money

Virginia Woolf? Molière? Ferenc Molnár? Philippe Halsman? Ad Reinhardt?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I was invited to conduct a workshop about writing and creativity. While reviewing materials on this topic I repeatedly came across a humorous quotation that pertains to commercialism. Here is one version:

Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.

These words were credited to Virginia Woolf which frankly I found very unlikely. While trying to track down a credible origin the most intriguing attributions I found were to two playwrights: the French master of comedy Molière and the Hungarian dramatist Ferenc Molnár, but I was unable to locate an authoritative answer. Now that I’ve discovered your blog I was hoping that you might like to tackle this.

Quote Investigator: Congratulations on your sleuthing skills. I think that one of the names you give belongs to the true originator of this quip. Different versions of this quotation have been used by creative artists in multiple disciplines.

The Abstract Expressionist painter Ad Reinhardt, famous for his uncompromising philosophy of art that led to canvases covered with shades of black, used a version of the saying in the 1960s. But he did not originate the saying, and he placed quotation marks around it. Reinhardt used the saying to condemn commercial artists who believed that “painting is like prostitution”.

An anecdote set in the 1960s about the acclaimed photographer Philippe Halsman contained a version of the quotation. Halsman famously collaborated with the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to produce the book “Dali’s Mustache”. He also created many of the cover shots for Life magazine. In the anecdote Halsman said “I drifted into photography like one drifts into prostitution” and then he recited a version of the saying.

But QI believes that the primary locus of origination occurred during a conversation between the prominent drama critic George Jean Nathan and the playwright Ferenc Molnár. The words of Molnár were recorded in a 1932 book “The Intimate Notebooks of George Jean Nathan” as follows [NGN]:

We were sitting one morning two Summers ago, Ferenc Molnár, Dr. Rudolf Kommer and I, in the little garden of a coffee-house in the Austrian Tyrol. “Your writing?” we asked him. “How do you regard it?” Languidly he readjusted the inevitable monocle to his eye. “Like a whore,” he blandly ventured. “First, I did it for my own pleasure. Then I did it for the pleasure of my friends. And now—I do it for money.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Did It For My Own Pleasure. Then I Did It For My Friends. Now I Do It For Money

What Lies Behind Us and What Lies Before Us are Tiny Matters Compared to What Lies Within Us

Albert Jay Nock? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Oliver Wendell Holmes? Henry David Thoreau? Henry Stanley Haskins? William Morrow? Expelled Wall Street Stock Trader?

Dear Quote Investigator: I attended a graduation ceremony last year and was genuinely impressed by a quotation used in the keynote address:

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

The speaker credited Ralph Waldo Emerson and that sounded plausible to me, but when I searched on the internet to find a specific reference I was surprised to discover substantial disagreement. Some websites do attribute the words to Emerson, but other websites favor Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and yet others credit Henry David Thoreau. Also, I found the wording varies somewhat. Not one of the attributions has a strong justification. Too many websites simply copy information from other repositories of unconfirmed data. Could you overcome this confusion?

Quote Investigator: This popular motivational saying has been ascribed to a diverse collection of individuals. Expert Ralph Keyes wrote in the Quote Verifier: 1

This quotation is especially beloved by coaches, valedictorians, eulogists, and Oprah Winfrey. It usually gets attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. No evidence can be found that Emerson said or wrote these words.

The earliest appearance of this adage located by QI is in a book titled “Meditations in Wall Street” that was produced in 1940 by the publishing house William Morrow & Company with an introduction by economics writer Albert Jay Nock. The word “before” is used instead of “ahead” in this initial saying: 2

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

When the book was originally released the name of the author was kept a mystery although the wordsmith was described as a Wall Street financier. However, that did not prevent eager quotation propagators from fabricating attributions. The maxim has been assigned to the introduction writer, Nock, and it has even been credited to the head of the publishing house, William Morrow.

In 1947 the New York Times printed the author’s identity: Henry S. Haskins, a man with a colorful and controversial background as a securities trader. QI believes that Haskins originated this popular saying which has in modern times been reassigned to more famous individuals.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading What Lies Behind Us and What Lies Before Us are Tiny Matters Compared to What Lies Within Us


  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 253-254, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1940, Meditations in Wall Street by Anonymous, With an Introduction by Albert Jay Nock, (“Anonymous” was Henry Stanley Haskins), Quote Page 131, William Morrow & Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View)

An Epigram is Only a Wisecrack That’s Played Carnegie Hall

Oscar Levant? Edmund Fuller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I see on the website that you looked into a quotation credited to the pianist, actor, and wit Oscar Levant and showed that someone else probably said it first. But I am confident that the following quote was originally said by Levant, and it fits the theme of the blog:

An epigram is only a wisecrack that’s played at Carnegie Hall.

Could you tell me whether these are the words of Oscar Levant?

Quote Investigator: QI will be happy to research this saying for you. To understand the humor in the remark it is helpful to know that Carnegie Hall has historically been one of the top venues for musical performances in New York and the world. This epigram about epigrams does appear to be the creation of Levant, but the wording given above differs from the earliest instances found by QI.

In 1941 a collection titled “Thesaurus of Quotations” edited by Edmund Fuller listed the following version of the saying attributed to Oscar Levant [TQF]:

An epigram is a gag that’s played Carnegie Hall.

There are a few other versions of the saying. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Epigram is Only a Wisecrack That’s Played Carnegie Hall

An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind

Mohandas Gandhi? George Perry Graham? Louis Fischer? Henry Powell Spring? Martin Luther King?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mohandas Gandhi’s policy of non-violence was famously used during the campaign for independence in India.  There is a well-known quotation that helps to express the rationale for this non-retaliatory philosophy:

An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.

I have read that Gandhi spoke this statement or something similar, but I haven’t yet found a precise citation for this. Could you find out when and where Gandhi said this?

Quote Investigator: One of the world’s top quotation experts, Fred R. Shapiro editor of the Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ), has examined this question. This is what the YBQ says [YQG]:

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” is frequently attributed to M. K. Gandhi. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence states that the Gandhi family believes it is an authentic Gandhi quotation, but no example of its use by the Indian leader has ever been discovered.

The YBQ notes that an important biographer of Gandhi, Louis Fischer, used a version of the expression when he wrote about Gandhi’s approach to conflict. However, Fischer did not attribute the saying to Gandhi in his description of the leader’s life. Instead, Fischer used the expression himself as part of his explanation of Gandhi’s philosophy. QI thinks some readers may have been confused and may have decided to directly attribute the saying to Gandhi based on a misreading of Fischer’s works.

The epigram is a twist on a famous Biblical injunction in the Book of Exodus [21:24]: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. These words appear in the King James English translation. There is a more elaborate version of the clever maxim based on these two phrases:

An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth would lead to a world of the blind and toothless.

QI has located relevant variants for this longer expression in 1914 and 1944. Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind