Tact Is the Ability To Describe Others As They See Themselves

Mary Pettibone Poole? Abraham Lincoln? Aldous Huxley? Eleanor Chaffee? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The ability to perceive others as they see themselves is an enormously helpful guide for smooth and productive interactions. Here is a pertinent adage:

Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.

This saying has been attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, quotation compiler Mary Pettibone Poole, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Abraham Lincoln employed this saying. Mary Pettibone Poole did record this saying in 1938, but it was already circulating.

The first match located by QI appeared in March 1925 in the “Washburn Review” of Topeka, Kansas which acknowledged another periodical: 1

Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves, says the Tulsa University Collegian.

“The Collegian” was (and remains) the newspaper of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. No attribution was provided. Thus, based on current information the creator was anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tact Is the Ability To Describe Others As They See Themselves

Notes:

  1. 1925 March 25, Washburn Review, Inter-Collegiate, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Topeka, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

He Is a Great Rascal. Ah! But He Is Our Rascal

Franklin D. Roosevelt? Abraham Lincoln? Thaddeus Stevens? Benjamin Butler? Philip Cook? Bill Higgins? John Franklin Carter? Justin Herman? Wayne Hays? Alistair Cooke? Cordell Hull? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A participant in the harsh domain of political power often faces difficult decisions. For example, should one promote a member of one’s party even when one knows that the individual is a scoundrel? Also, should one maintain support for an ally even when the ally is disreputable or barbarous? The following dialog depicts a challenge and response:

“How can you support that scoundrel?”
“He may be a scoundrel, but he’s our scoundrel.”

Over the years many other words have been used to describe the miscreant, e.g., rascal, scalawag, scoundrel, so-and-so, son-of-a-bitch, and bastard. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a Wilmington, North Carolina newspaper editorial in 1868. The two participants in the dialog were not identified. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We are forcibly reminded by these arguments of the Radicals of the reply of one of their party, in attempting to persuade a rather conscientious member to vote for a certain candidate whose character was none the best. “He is a great rascal,” indignantly proposed the friend. “Ah! but he is our rascal,” was the significant rejoinder.

Many instances conforming to this template have appeared during the ensuing decades. Here is a sampling showing the key line together with a year:

1868: Ah! but he is our rascal.
1875: Of course, of course, but which of ’em is our damned rascal?
1889: Yes, I know, but then he’s our scalawag.
1895: Never mind that; all we want to know is that he is our scoundrel.
1904: Yes, I know, but he is our scoundrel.
1934: After all, Blank isn’t so bad. He’s our So and So!
1934: After all, Blank isn’t so bad. He’s our son-of-a-bitch!
1948: He’s a sonofabitch but he’s ours.
1962: He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.
1969: He was a Grade-A bastard, but at least he was our bastard and not theirs.

QI wishes to acknowledge researchers Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Barry Popik who identified many valuable examples.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Is a Great Rascal. Ah! But He Is Our Rascal

Notes:

  1. 1868 July 26, The Daily Journal, “Our Rebels”, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Wilmington, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

If They Turn Their Backs To the Fire, and Get Scorched in the Rear, They’ll Find They Have Got To ‘Sit’ on the ‘Blister’!

Abraham Lincoln? Francis Bicknell Carpenter? Carl Sandburg? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Apparently Abraham Lincoln employed a vividly powerful metaphor when discussing the people’s responsibility during an election. The precise phrasing is uncertain. Here is one version:

If the people turn their backs to a fire they will burn their behinds, and they will just have to sit on their blisters.

Would you please help me to find the correct phrasing and a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, and the earliest match known to QI appeared in an 1866 book of reminiscences by U.S. painter Francis Bicknell Carpenter titled “Six Months at The White House with Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Picture”.

Carpenter wished to paint a picture commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation, and he met with Lincoln about the project in February 1864. He was given space for a studio within the White House, and he worked on the painting until it was completed for viewing in July 1864.

Carpenter’s book contained many anecdotes about Lincoln. One of Carpenter’s unnamed friends was the private secretary of a cabinet minister. In August 1864 the friend was tasked with presenting to Lincoln an assessment of the upcoming election. Unfortunately, the prospects seemed gloomy. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

My friend said that he found Mr. Lincoln alone, looking more than usually careworn and sad. Upon hearing the statement, he walked two or three times across the floor in silence. Returning, he said with grim earnestness of tone and manner: “Well, I cannot run the political machine; I have enough on my hands without that. It is the people’s business, — the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire, and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to ‘sit’ on the ‘blister ’!”

This citation is substantive, but the accuracy of this quotation is dependent on the veracity and the memory of Carpenter and his friend. The figurative framework of fire and blisters has a long history as shown below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If They Turn Their Backs To the Fire, and Get Scorched in the Rear, They’ll Find They Have Got To ‘Sit’ on the ‘Blister’!

Notes:

  1. 1866, Six Months at The White House with Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Picture by F. B. Carpenter (Francis Bicknell Carpenter), Chapter 68, Quote Page 275, Hurd and Houghton, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

When You Are Young, You Have the Face Your Parents Gave You. After You Are Forty, You Have the Face You Deserve

George Orwell? Coco Chanel? Mae West? Ingrid Bergman? Albert Camus? Abraham Lincoln? Edwin M. Stanton? Lucius E. Chittenden? Albert Schweitzer? Maurice Chevalier? William H. Seward? Edward Lee Hawk? William Shakspeare? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person’s true character can be deduced by the careful study of the face according to believers in physiognomy. This notion dates back to the ancient Greeks, but nowadays it is often considered pseudoscientific. Believers contend that the human visage changes over time, and authentic character eventually emerges. Here are three pertinent remarks:

  • At forty you have the face you deserve.
  • A man of 50 years is responsible for his looks
  • After thirty you have the face you have made yourself.

This family of statements includes elaborate multipart assertions. Here are two examples:

  • At 20 you have the face God gave you, at 40 you have the face that life has molded, and at 60 you have the face you deserve.
  • Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.

Remarks of this type have been credited to U.S. statesman Abraham Lincoln, fashion maven Coco Chanel, political writer George Orwell, French existentialist Albert Camus, movie star Ingrid Bergman, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration” by Lucius E. Chittenden who served as U.S. Register of the Treasury during Lincoln’s presidency. Chittenden told an anecdote about Edwin M. Stanton who served as Secretary of War for Lincoln. Stanton would sometimes judge a person harshly based on facial features. In the following dialog Stanton was conversing with an unnamed military officer about an underling in the War Department. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Did you ever in all your life see the head of a human being which so closely resembled that of a cod fish?”

He is not responsible for his head or his face. But why do you say he is a fraud? The newspapers call him a reformer, and give him credit for great efficiency.”

“I deny your conclusions,” he replied. “A man of fifty is responsible for his face! Yes, I know he is courting the newspapers: that proves him a humbug and presumptively a fraud.”

A few months later the official in question was found guilty by a court-martial of peculation and fraud in the management of his bureau and dishonorably expelled from the service.

Chittenden’s book of recollections was published in 1891. However, the episode above reportedly occurred many years earlier during Lincoln’s presidency which ended with his death in 1865. The accuracy of the quotation attributed to Stanton was dependent on the veracity of Chittenden who may have heard the tale second-hand.

This family of sayings has remained popular for many decades. Coco Chanel employed a multipart version in 1938. George Orwell penned an instance in one of his notebooks in 1949. Albert Camus published a version in 1956. Ingrid Bergman referred to the saying in 1957. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When You Are Young, You Have the Face Your Parents Gave You. After You Are Forty, You Have the Face You Deserve

Notes:

  1. 1891 Copyright, Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration by L. E. Chittenden; Lincoln’s Register of The Treasury (Lucius Eugene Chittenden), Chapter 24, Quote Page 184, Harper & Brothers, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

I Destroy My Enemies When I Make Them My Friends

Abraham Lincoln? Emperor Sigismund? Martin Luther King? Loretta Young? Mark Twain? Cardinal Richelieu? Robert Jones Burdette? John Wooden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The leader of a victorious group decided to treat the vanquished people with compassion. Critics of the leader were unhappy because they believed that the enemies deserved destruction. Here are three versions of the response:

  • The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
  • I will slay my enemies by making them my friends.
  • The only safe and sure way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.

This saying has been attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match for this anecdote located by QI appeared in a Bellows Falls, Vermont newspaper in April 1818. The word “reproaching” should have been “reproached” in the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Emperor Sigismund was reproaching for rewarding instead destroying his enemies, as by that means he gave them an opportunity to injure him. “What!” said the noble minded monarch, “do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends.”

Sigismund died in 1437, and the long delay before this tale appeared reduces its credibility. A similar anecdote was told by the 1940s about Abraham Lincoln who died in 1865. The delay suggests that this story was also apocryphal.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Destroy My Enemies When I Make Them My Friends

Notes:

  1. 1818 April 6, Vermont Intelligencer, Anecdotes, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Bellows Falls, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)

He Can Compress the Most Words In the Fewest Ideas of Anyone I Ever Knew

Abraham Lincoln? Henry Clay Whitney? Elliott Anthony? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A verbose speaker employing overblown rhetoric reportedly inspired a humorous observation from U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Here are two versions:

  1. That feller can crowd the most words into the fewest ideas of anyone I ever saw.
  2. He can concentrate the most words into the smallest idea of any man I ever met.

Is there any substantive evidence that Lincoln actually made this quip?

Quote Investigator: There are two distinct anecdotes supporting the attribution of this joke to Abraham Lincoln. Both tales were told by people who claimed to have heard the remark directly from Lincoln. Unfortunately, both stories were published many years after the assassination of the famous statesman in 1865 with a concomitant reduction in credibility.

Henry Clay Whitney was a close friend of Lincoln who in 1892 published “Life on the Circuit with Lincoln” which included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

There was a small merchant in Chicago, whom (to suppress his real name) I will call Blower, and who sold out his store and embraced the trade, or profession, of politics. Lincoln had great contempt for him, although he gave him an office; but he said to me one day: “That Blower can compress the most words in the fewest ideas of any man I ever knew.”

The second anecdote was told by Elliott Anthony within the 1899 book “The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent”. Anthony was active in politics and frequently met with fellow Republican party member Lincoln. Both were lawyers who regularly visited courts and saw colleagues delivering speeches to juries.

The pair heard a lengthy semi-coherent address about insect-eating storks and the dykes of Holland that was delivered by attorney Robert S. Blackwell. Anthony relayed the following reaction spoken by Lincoln: 2

That beats me! Blackwell can concentrate more words into the fewest ideas of any man I ever knew. The storks of Holland! Why, they would eat him up before he began to get half through telling that story about them.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Can Compress the Most Words In the Fewest Ideas of Anyone I Ever Knew

Notes:

  1. 1892, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln: With Sketches of Generals Grant, Sherman and McClellan, Judge Davis, Leonard Swett, and Other Contemporaries by Henry C. Whitney (Henry Clay Whitney), Chapter 8: Lincoln as a “Merry Andrew”, Quote Page 182, Estes and Lauriat, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1899, The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent, Edited by John M. Palmer, Volume 2, Chapter 32: Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar of Chicago by the Late Judge Elliott Anthony (Revised by Charles E. Anthony), Start Page 602, Quote Page 642 and 643, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full view) link

A Man Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

Abraham Lincoln? William De Britaine? Roger L’Estrange? Italian Proverb? Benjamin Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Evaluating complex legal issues requires expertise. Abraham Lincoln reportedly employed the following adage. Here are two versions:

  • If you are your own lawyer you have a fool for a client.
  • He who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest partial match known to QI appeared in the 1682 book “Humane Prudence, or, The Art by which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur” by William De Britaine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Before you act, it’s Prudence soberly to consider; for after Action you cannot recede without dishonour: Take the Advice of some Prudent Friend; for he who will be his own Counsellour, shall be sure to have a Fool for his Client.

This adage is ambiguous because the term “counselor” has more than one pertinent meaning. A counselor is a person who gives counsel, i.e., an adviser. Alternatively, a counsellor is an attorney, especially one who pleads cases in court. The context suggests to QI that the first interpretation is the most likely.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

Notes:

  1. Year: 1682 (MDCLXXXII), Author: William De Britaine, Title: Humane Prudence, or, The Art by which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur by A.B., Section 18, Quote Page 57, Publication: Printed for John Lawrence, London. (Early English Books Online) link

Let Them Know the Truth, and the Country Is Safe

Abraham Lincoln? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Newseum is a museum in Washington, D.C. featuring exhibits about the history of communication, the news industry, and free expression. A powerful quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln is engraved into one of its walls:

Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.

I have been unable to locate a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the “Boston Morning Journal” of Boston, Massachusetts on April 17, 1865 a couple days after Lincoln’s death on April 15th. A letter writer identified as “E. K.” reported that he had spoken to Lincoln in July 1864, and E. K. presented remarks he ascribed to Lincoln. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Many of his best friends had deserted him, and were talking of an opposition convention to nominate another candidate; and universal gloom was among the people. The North was tired of the war, and supposed an honorable peace attainable, Mr. Lincoln knew it was not—that any peace at that time would be only disunion. Speaking of it, he said: “I have faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is, they are misled. Let them know the truth, and the country is safe.”

QI hypothesizes that the modern quotation evolved from the statement above. Here is a list of variant expressions together with citation dates:

1865: Let them know the truth, and the country is safe.
1907: Let the people know the truth, and the country is safe.
1920: Let the people know the truth and the country will be safe.
1944: Let the people know the facts and the country will be saved.
1969: Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.

The list above represents a snapshot of current findings, and earlier citations for variants may be uncovered by future researchers. Additional details appear below in chronological order.

Continue reading Let Them Know the Truth, and the Country Is Safe

Notes:

  1. 1865 April 17, Boston Morning Journal, The Death of President Lincoln, Message to the Editor of The Boston Journal, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans of microfilm from Boston Public Library)

Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

George Bernard Shaw? Mark Twain? Abraham Lincoln? Cyrus Stuart Ching? J. Frank Condon? Richard P. Calhoon? N. H. Eagle? Cale Yarborough? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular metaphorical adage warns individuals not to engage with disreputable critics. Here are two versions:

  1. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.
  2. Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

This saying has been credited to a triumvirate of quotation superstars: Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and George Bernard Shaw. I doubt these ascriptions because I haven’t seen any solid citations. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.

The adage evolved in a multistep multi-decade process. An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776. QI has a separate article about that saying: Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.

In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated; nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.

The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.

The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by QI appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The ellipsis is in the original text: 2

A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.

“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.'”

Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a pre-existing item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

Notes:

  1. 1872 February 3, The Cambria Freeman, Communication, (Letter to the Editor from J. Frank Condon; letter date Jan 29, 1872), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com and Chronicling America)
  2. 1948 January 3, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 220 Number 27, The Two-Fisted Wisdom of Ching by Beverly Smith, Start Page 15, Quote Page 58, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis Indiana. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)

The Foolish and the Dead Alone Never Change Their Opinion

Abraham Lincoln? James Russell Lowell? Anonymous?

lowell08

Dear Quote Investigator: Intelligent and thoughtful people maintain mental flexibility throughout life. It is irrational to rigidly adhere to a fixed opinion in the face of reliable contrary information. Abraham Lincoln supposedly said:

The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions.

These words have also been credited to the prominent poet and editor James Russell Lowell. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: This quotation appeared in the 1871 collection “My Study Windows” by James Russell Lowell within a section about President Abraham Lincoln. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The imputation of inconsistency is one to which every sound politician and every honest thinker must sooner or later subject himself. The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.

The passage above was written by Lowell and reflected his opinion. He did not ascribe the words to Lincoln; however, some readers probably became confused because the piece was about Lincoln. Lowell’s quotation differed slightly from the popular modern version. The word “opinion” was singular in the original statement.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Foolish and the Dead Alone Never Change Their Opinion

Notes:

  1. 1871, My Study Windows by James Russell Lowell (Professor of Belles-Lettres in Harvard College), Section: Abraham Lincoln: 1864, Start Page 150, Quote Page 166, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link