This Earth Is Used By Other Planets as a Lunatic Asylum

George Bernard Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Influential intellectuals have experienced cosmic despair while observing the behavior of humankind. Here are some statements I have heard attributed to Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Kurt Vonnegut, and others:

  • This planet is being used as an insane asylum by other planets.
  • Beings from other planets are using the Earth as a lunatic asylum.
  • The earth is the lunatic asylum of the Universe.
  • Earth is an insane asylum to which other planets deport their lunatics.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex question; hence, QI will split the response into multiple articles, and this article will center on George Bernard Shaw.

In September 1919 a letter from Judge Henry Neil appeared in several newspapers including “The Weekly Freeman” of Dublin, Ireland, the “The Daily Herald” of London England, 1 and the “New York Tribune” of New York, New York. 2

Neil was an exponent of government supplied pensions for widows with children, and he had communicated with George Bernard Shaw who also supported these pensions. Some U.S. states had passed legislation to implement payments, but some lawmakers resisted. Shaw believed that a willingness to provide pensions to “war widows and not to peace widows” was illogical. Inconsistencies of this type led Shaw to state the following according to Neil. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

“The longer I live, the more I am inclined to the belief that this earth is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This Earth Is Used By Other Planets as a Lunatic Asylum

Notes:

  1. 1919 September 11, The Daily Herald, Pensions for Mothers, Quote Page 2, Column 3, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1919 September 14, New York Tribune, Section 3: Financial Real Estate News, This Lunatic World, Letter To: Editor of The Tribune, Letter From: Judge Henry Neil, Letter Date: Monday, September 1, 1919, Quote Page 2, Column 6, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1919 September 6, The Weekly Freeman, Shaw’s Reply to Judge Neil, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Dublin, Ireland. (British Newspaper Archive)

The Time To Be Happy Is Now; The Place To Be Happy Is Here

Creator: Robert G. Ingersoll, prominent orator and exponent of agnosticism

Context: In 1899 Ingersoll was asked to record his thoughts using an early phonograph device. According to a newspaper account his remarks included the following combination of hedonism and altruism. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

I, too, have my religion. It is this: Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now; the place to be happy is here; and the way to be happy is to make others happy. This is the religion of usefulness; this is the religion of reason.

Ingersoll had delivered a similar message in the past. For example, during a speech in 1872 he said: 2

Reason, Observation and Experience — the Holy Trinity of Science — have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us.

Image Notes: Picture of joyful person from Myriams-Fotos at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1899 February 3, The Junction City Republican, His Idea of Immortality: Col. Ingersoll Leaves His Impressions In a Phonograph, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Junction City, Kansas. (Ingersoll stated that the recording was made January 22, 1899) (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1873, An Oration on the Gods, by Robert G. Ingersoll (Robert Green Ingersoll), Delivered at Fairbury, Illinois on the Evening of January 29, 1872, Quote Page 48, Daily Bulletin Steam Book and Job Print, Cairo, Illinois. (“Experience” is misspelled as “Exprience” in the original text) (Google Books Full View) link

Mediocrity is My Biggest Fear

Creator: Robert Downey Jr., Hollywood star known for playing comic book hero Iron Man and famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes

Context: While living in Los Angles the photographer Karen Hardy Bystedt met with young performers who were launching their movie careers: 1

Amazingly, more than half the actors and actresses I interviewed and photographed between 1987 and 1993 went on to become megastars.

She spoke with Robert Downey Jr. in 1988 after he had appeared in “The Pick-up Artist” and “Less Than Zero”. Downey discussed his fears and sacrifices. Emphasis added: 2

Mediocrity is my biggest fear. I’m not afraid of total failure, because I don’t think that will happen. I’m not afraid of success, because that beats the hell out of failure. It’s being in the middle that scares me.

My biggest sacrifice for success has been losing touch with the day-to-day reality of a modest existence. Los Angeles isn’t reality, and making a movie in Los Angeles is a double-entendre of non-reality.

Image Notes: Picture of Robert Downey, Jr.; creator Gage Skidmore; accessed via Flickr. License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Notes:

  1. 1996 Copyright, Before They Were Famous: In Their Own Words by Karen Hardy Bystedt, (Collection of Interviews), Section: Introduction, Start Page 8, Quote Page 9, General Publishing Group Inc., Santa Monica, California. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1996 Copyright, Before They Were Famous: In Their Own Words by Karen Hardy Bystedt, (Collection of Interviews), Interview with Robert Downey Jr., Date: January 1988, Start Page 108, Quote Page 113, General Publishing Group Inc., Santa Monica, California. (Verified with hardcopy)

Tact Is the Knack of Making a Point Without Making an Enemy

Isaac Newton? Howard W. Newton? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton supposedly coined the following expression:

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.

A variant of this statement uses “knack” instead of “art”. Interestingly, Isaac Newton made some powerful enemies during his lifetime. Do you think this attribution is correct?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Isaac Newton employed this saying. The misattribution was probably caused by confusion with another person whose last name was Newton.

The earliest match found by QI appeared in “Redbook” magazine in August 1946 within a piece by Howard W. Newton presenting a collection of witticisms. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.

Advertising executive Howard W. Newton is the leading candidate for creator of this saying.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tact Is the Knack of Making a Point Without Making an Enemy

Notes:

  1. 1946 August, Redbook, Volume 87, Issue, 4, Do You Agree? by Howard W. Newton, Start Page 50, Quote Page 50, Column 1, Published by Hearst Magazines, New York. (Women’s Magazine Archive ProQuest)

If You Find a Book You Really Want To Read But It Hasn’t Been Written Yet, Then You Must Write It

Toni Morrison? Benjamin Disraeli? Mickey Spillane? Janet Fitch? Ann Patchett? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent American editor, writer, and educator Toni Morrison who authored the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” has been credited with an exhilarating remark about the creative process:

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

I have not been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1981 Toni Morrison spoke at the annual meeting of the Ohio Arts Council, and “The Cincinnati Enquirer” reported some of her comments. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Writing to me is an advanced and slow form of reading. If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

“It took me a long time to do a short book; a long time to leave the world of language and the building up and shaping of the book, but once it began to float I knew I could not not do it . . .

Morrison’s original phrasing differed slightly from the popular modern version of the quotation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Find a Book You Really Want To Read But It Hasn’t Been Written Yet, Then You Must Write It

Notes:

  1. 1981 September 27, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Writing Is Third Career For Morrison by Ellen Brown (Entertainment Reporter), Quote Page F11, Column 1, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

Ten Decimals of π Are Sufficient To Give the Circumference of the Earth To the Fraction of an Inch

Simon Newcomb? John Casey? George McC. Robson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number π is a fundamental mathematical constant which equals the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Trillions of digits of the decimal expansion of π have been calculated using electronic computers and innovative algorithms. Yet, this precision is not needed in the realm of practical measurement. Simon Newcomb, the prominent astronomer and mathematician, once said something like this:

Ten decimal places of π are sufficient to give the circumference of the earth to a fraction of an inch.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1881 Simon Newcomb published “Elements of Geometry” which was based on the foundational tome by Euclid. Here is a passage discussing the calculation of π. The word “computer” refers to a human calculator. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This number π is of such fundamental importance in geometry that mathematicians have devoted great attention to its calculation. . . . Dase, a German computer, carried the calculation to 200 places of decimals. The following are the first 36 figures of his result:

3.141 592 653 589 793 238 462 643 383 279 502 884.

The result is here carried far beyond all the wants of mathematics. Ten decimals are sufficient to give the circumference of the earth to the fraction of an inch, and thirty decimals would give the circumference of the whole visible universe to a quantity imperceptible with the most powerful microscope.

The emphasized text above differs slightly from the modern quotation because it does not repeat the term π.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Ten Decimals of π Are Sufficient To Give the Circumference of the Earth To the Fraction of an Inch

Notes:

  1. 1881, Elements of Geometry by Simon Newcomb (Professor of Mathematics, United States Navy), Book VI: Regular Polygons and the Circle, Problem VII, Quote Page 235, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Life Is a Treasure Hunt

Olivia Wyndham? Marjorie G. Hellier? Kevin J. Cook? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have been attempting to trace an uplifting proverb about adventure and discovery:

Life is a treasure hunt.

The lesson of this phrase is illustrated by the delight experienced when uncovering early instances of this adage. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In July 1924 “The Sketch”, a London periodical, published a piece by Olivia Wyndham who was a member of a society that organized treasure hunts for entertainment. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Every attempt to keep the last Treasure Hunt of the season out of the papers failed completely. The idea of avoiding publicity was a losing fight from the start; but now that it is all over honour is satisfied, and I can add my say in the matter.

I have long wanted to argue with the gentleman who wrote to the paper saying, “Does not the Society of Bright Young People realise that the whole of life is a treasure hunt, etc.,” or words to that effect. In fact, I am afraid he was trying to infer that we were wasting our time, energy, and brains, and were not good citizens.

Wyndham was paraphrasing the words of a detractor, but the elegant encapsulation was hers. Since she wrote the earliest known instance she tentatively deserves credit for coining the expression. This notion is natural, and future researchers may find earlier evidence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is a Treasure Hunt

Notes:

  1. 1924 July 23, The Sketch, Society Treasure Hunts: The Trail and the Chase by Olivia Wyndham, Start Page 158, Quote Page 158, Column 1, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

“I Enjoyed Your Book. Who Wrote It for You?” “I’m So Glad You Liked It. Who Read It To You?”

Ilka Chase vs. Anonymous Actress? Ilka Chase vs. Humphrey Bogart? Sylvia Strum Bremer vs. Cynic? Liz Carpenter vs. Arthur Schlesinger Jr.? Eric Morecambe vs. Ernie Wise?

Dear Quote Investigator: For many years ghostwriters have been composing books for well-known celebrities. The following prickly repartee shows that authorship is a sensitive topic:

“I enjoyed your book. Who wrote it for you?”
“Thanks. I wrote it myself. Who read it to you?”

Would you please examine the provenance of this banter?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the syndicated gossip column of Walter Winchell in April 1942. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Meow! A catty actress visited the “Now, Voyager” set in H’wood and congratulated Ilka Chase on her recent book. “I enjoyed it,” she said. “Who wrote it?”

“Darling,” clawed Ilka, “I’m so glad you liked it. Who read it to you?”

The book referenced was Chase’s autobiography “Past Imperfect” which was released to reviewers in 1941.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “I Enjoyed Your Book. Who Wrote It for You?” “I’m So Glad You Liked It. Who Read It To You?”

Notes:

  1. 1942 April 29, Richmond Times-Dispatch, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 11, Column 3, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank)

Be Quick To Praise. People Like To Praise Those Who Praise Them


Creator: Bernard Baruch, U.S. financier, philanthropist, and presidential adviser

Context: In 1948 Bernard M. Baruch spoke at a youth forum sponsored by “The New York Daily Mirror” newspaper and offered several rules for success to his listeners including the following. Boldface added to excerpt: 1

Be quick to praise. People like to praise those who praise them. Be sincere in doing this.

Keep yourself tidy. . . .

Be helpful, that is the first definition of success.

Be cheerful. There are enough crepe-hangers around, without adding to the list.

This quotation is listed in William Safire’s compilation titled “Words of Wisdom: More Good Advice”. 2

Image Notes: Thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons from ArtsyBee at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1948 December 12, The Miami News, Rules For Success Listed By Baruch At Youth Forum (Associated Press), Quote Page 12A, Column 4, Miami, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1989, Words of Wisdom: More Good Advice, Compiled and edited by William Safire and Leonard Safir, Section: Praise, Quote Page 294, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)

If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail

Benjamin Franklin? H. K. Williams? James H. Hope? E. B. Gregory? Dalton E. Brady? Robert H. Schuller? John Wooden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proper planning is fundamental to success. Benjamin Franklin has been credited with an admonitory aphorism. Here are three versions using “plan” and “prepare”:

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail.
  • The person who fails to plan, plans to fail.
  • By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.

The memorability of this statement is enhanced by the use of antimetabole: a clause is repeated with key words transposed. In this case, the suffixes are also swapped. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Benjamin Franklin employed this adage.

The first match known to QI appeared in the periodical “The Biblical World” in 1919. The Reverend H. K. Williams provided advice to people who were responsible for giving presentations to religious groups. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Be well prepared and brief in your remarks. There is positively no excuse for wasting another’s time by going to the meeting unprepared and rambling helplessly in your talk. Remember, if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail.

This valuable citation is listed in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press. 2 QI hypothesizes that Williams was using an adage that was already in circulation although he may be credited with helping to popularize it. Future researchers will likely find earlier instances.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail

Notes:

  1. 1919 January, The Biblical World, Volume 53, Number 1, Religious Education,(Excerpt from “The Group Plan” by Rev. H. K. Williams in the “Young People’s Service”, Start Page 80, Quote Page 81, Column 2, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 73, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)