We Can Complain Because Rose Bushes Have Thorns, or Rejoice Because Thorn Bushes Have Roses

Abraham Lincoln? Alphonse Karr? B. Fay Mills? Roe Fulkerson? J. Kenfield Morley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular quotation about achieving the proper perspective on life is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints are ingeniously contrasted in this expression. One may emphasize the beauty and lovely fragrance of a rose, or one may become preoccupied with the threatening pain of a thorn. I’m curious to know whether Lincoln actually spoke these words. I can’t find the source anywhere, and I’d like to know the context.

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Abraham Lincoln wrote or spoke this quotation. Lincoln did mention roses and thorns when in 1850 he delivered a eulogy for Zachary Taylor who was the twelfth President of the United States. Here is an excerpt: 1

The Presidency, even to the most experienced politicians, is no bed of roses; and Gen. Taylor like others, found thorns within it. No human being can fill that station and escape censure.

The above statement was quite different from the saying under investigation.

The earliest evidence found by QI of a conceptual match using the same key vocabulary items was printed in a work by the prominent French journalist and author Alphonse Karr in 1853. The book “Lettres écrites de mon jardin” (“Letters written from my garden”) included a rhyming verse on this theme, but Karr’s introductory comment suggested an anonymous authorship: 2

De leur meilleur côté tâchons de voir les choses:
Vous vous plaignez de voir les rosiers épineux;
Moi je me réjouis et rends grâces aux dieux
Que les épines aient des roses.

Here is one possible translation of the verse into English:

Let us try to see things from their better side:
You complain about seeing thorny rose bushes;
Me, I rejoice and give thanks to the gods
That thorns have roses.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Can Complain Because Rose Bushes Have Thorns, or Rejoice Because Thorn Bushes Have Roses

Notes:

  1. Database of “The Abraham Lincoln Association”, Book Title: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume: 2, Author: Abraham Lincoln, Publication: Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Year: 1953, (Eulogy on Zachary Taylor: EULOGY PRONOUNCED BY HON. A. LINCOLN, ON THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF THE LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, At Chicago, July 25th, 1850) (Database at quod.lib.umich.edu accessed November 16, 2013) link
  2. 1853, Lettres écrites de mon jardin by Alphonse Karr, Quote Page 293, Publisher Michel Lévy Frères, Paris. (Google Books full view) link

I Will Send a Barrel of This Wonderful Whiskey to Every General in the Army

Abraham Lincoln? Charles G. Halpine? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a brilliant anecdote about President Lincoln defending General Grant from an accusation of drunkenness. I have read conflicting statements about whether this anecdote is accurate. Perhaps you could examine this tale for the next Presidents’ Day holiday?

Quote Investigator: The story of Abraham Lincoln’s humorous response to criticisms of General Ulysses S. Grant’s imbibing is famous. The earliest instance QI has found appeared in the New York Herald on September 18, 1863: 1

After the failure of his first experimental explorations around Vicksburg, a committee of abolition war managers waited upon the President and demanded the General’s removal, on the false charge that he was a whiskey drinker, and little better than a common drunkard. “Ah!” exclaimed Honest Old Abe, “you surprise me, gentlemen. But can you tell me where he gets his whiskey?” “We cannot, Mr. President. But why do you desire to know?” “Because, if I can only find out, I will send a barrel of this wonderful whiskey to every general in the army.”

On October 30, 1863 a compact version of the story was printed in the New York Times: 2

When some one charged Gen. Grant, in the President’s hearing, with drinking too much liquor, Mr. Lincoln, recalling Gen. Grant’s successes, said that if he could find out what brand of whisky Grant drank, he would send a barrel of it to all the other commanders.

The text above was reprinted in other newspapers such as the Daily Constitutional Union of Washington D.C. 3 and the Cleveland Plain Dealer of Cleveland, Ohio. 4

This popular story has been disseminated in numerous books and periodicals from 1863 to the present day. But testimony regarding its originality and veracity is complex and contradictory. Some individuals have claimed that they heard the joke directly from Lincoln, and other individuals have stated that Lincoln denied telling the joke. In addition, critics have questioned the novelty of the jest.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Will Send a Barrel of This Wonderful Whiskey to Every General in the Army

Notes:

  1. 1863 September 18, New York Herald, The President’s Habeas Corpus Proclamation and the Act of Congress on the Subject, Quote Page 6, Column 4 and 5, New York. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1863 October 30, New York Times, Blair’s Bitters, Quote Page 4, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. 1863 November 2, Daily Constitutional Union (Evening Union), Blair’s Bitters, Quote Page 1, Column 5, Washington D. C. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1863 November 2, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ultra Temperance, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Folks Are Usually About as Happy as They Make Up Their Minds To Be

Abraham Lincoln? Frank Crane? Orison Swett Marden? Dale Carnegie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: On twitter recently there was an exchange about a deeply insightful quotation credited to Abraham Lincoln:

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

I love this saying, and it helps me to reflect constructively on my own turbulent emotional life. Sometimes focusing on the positive enables one to feel happy instead of unhappy. Could you determine if Lincoln or someone else created this adage?

Quote Investigator: Expert Ralph Keyes examined a version of this saying in The Quote Verifier and expressed skepticism about the common ascription: 1

“People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
This popular Internet quotation is usually attributed to Lincoln. It doesn’t sound like him, however, and no evidence has been offered that he ever said or wrote this. It has appeared in unreliable collections of Lincolniana, and was attributed to Lincoln in the 1960 film Pollyanna.

The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a newspaper article about New Year’s Resolutions on the first day of 1914 by the columnist Dr. Frank Crane: 2

Determine this year to be master of self; that you will control your thoughts, regulate your passions, and guide your own deeds; that you will not let events lead you by the nose.

Resolve to be happy. Remember Lincoln’s saying that “folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Crane’s column about resolutions was printed in the Syracuse Herald of Syracuse, New York. It also appeared in other papers in 1914 such as: the Moberly Morning Monitor of Moberly, Missouri; 3 and the Grand Forks Herald of Grand Forks, North Dakota. 4

In 1916 Crane invoked the adage again in his column titled “Plain Talk for Plain People”, but the phrasing he employed was somewhat different. The expression used “most people” instead of “folks” and included the phrase “in this world”: 5

Do you remember what Lincoln said? It was this:
“I have noticed that most people in this world are about as happy as they have made up their minds to be.”

Note that Crane placed the statement between quotation marks, and he credited Abraham Lincoln, but he was not certain how it was originally phrased. Indeed, as shown below, Crane gave a third version in 1920. Lincoln died in 1865 about fifty years before the earliest instance of the quote known to QI.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Folks Are Usually About as Happy as They Make Up Their Minds To Be

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 129, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1914 January 01, Syracuse Herald, New Year’s Resolutions by Dr. Frank Crane, Unnumbered Page (NewsArch Page 16), Column 4, Syracuse, New York. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1914 January 4, Moberly Morning Monitor, New Year’s Resolutions by Dr. Frank Crane, Page 2, Column 4, Moberly, Missouri. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1914 January 15, Grand Forks Herald, Old-Fashioned Advice. Some Worth While Resolutions for the New Year, (Acknowledgement to Chicago News), Page 7, Column 6, Grand Forks, North Dakota. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1916 July 23, Boston Globe, Plain Talk for Plain People by Dr. Frank Crane, Page 44, Column 8, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

It’s Not the Years in Your Life That Count. It’s the Life in Your Years

Abraham Lincoln? Adlai Stevenson? Edward J. Stieglitz? Edward Barrett Warman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There are posters, shirts, mugs, and other commercial products displaying the following inspirational quote:

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with this aphorism, but I cannot find it in his collected works. Can you determine who really said it?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Lincoln used this expression. Some quotation references attributed the remark to Adlai Stevenson II who was the Governor of Illinois and a Democratic Presidential nominee. Indeed, Stevenson did employ a version of this adage in speeches as early as 1952.

But the earliest strong match located by QI was in an advertisement in 1947 for a book about aging by Edward J. Stieglitz, M.D. The image at the top of this article shows the ad for “The Second Forty Years” which ran in the Chicago Tribune newspaper. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The important thing to you is not how many years in your life, but how much life in your years!

The rhetorical technique of reversing word order in successive clauses is called antimetabole. In this case, “years in your life” was transformed into “life in your years”, and the contrast between the two subphrases was highlighted.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Not the Years in Your Life That Count. It’s the Life in Your Years

Notes:

  1. 1947 March 16, Chicago Tribune, “How Long Do You Plan to Live?”, [Advertisement for the book “The Second Forty Years” by Edward J. Stieglitz, M.D.], Page C7, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)

Your Liberty To Swing Your Fist Ends Just Where My Nose Begins

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.? John B. Finch? John Stuart Mill? Abraham Lincoln? Zechariah Chafee, Jr.?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am writing a book on the theme of freedom and would like to include a classic quotation about the pragmatic limitations on liberty. My research has identified several versions of this popular saying:

The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.

The right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.

My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.

Strangely, these three similar statements were credited to three very different people. The first quote was attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. The second saying was credited to John Stuart Mill, and the third was ascribed to Abraham Lincoln. But I do not trust any of these attributions because no citations were provided. Could you investigate this adage and determine its origin?

Quote Investigator: The seminal reference work “The Yale Book of Quotations” presents an important citation for this saying that shows when the phrase entered the realm of scholarly legal discourse. The saying was not credited to any one of the three luminaries mentioned in the query. In June 1919 the Harvard Law Review published an article by legal philosopher Zechariah Chafee, Jr. titled “Freedom of Speech in War Time” and it contained a version of the expression spoken by an anonymous judge [ZCYQ] [ZCHL]:

Each side takes the position of the man who was arrested for swinging his arms and hitting another in the nose, and asked the judge if he did not have a right to swing his arms in a free country. “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

Interestingly, the genesis of this adage can be traced back more than thirty-five additional years. Several variants of the expression were employed by a set of lecturers who were aligned with the temperance movement which favored restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in a collection of speeches that were delivered by John B. Finch who was the Chairman of the Prohibition National Committee for several years in the 1880s and died in 1887.

The saying Finch used was somewhat longer and clumsier than later versions of the aphorism. But the central idea was the same, and Finch received credit from some of his colleagues. It is common for expressions to be shortened and polished as they pass from one speaker to another over a period of years. Here is the relevant excerpt from an oration Finch gave in Iowa City in 1882 [PVJF]:

This arm is my arm (and my wife’s), it is not yours. Up here I have a right to strike out with it as I please. I go over there with these gentlemen and swing my arm and exercise the natural right which you have granted; I hit one man on the nose, another under the ear, and as I go down the stairs on my head, I cry out:

“Is not this a free country?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have not I a right to swing my arm?”

“Yes, but your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

Here civil government comes in to prevent bloodshed, adjust rights, and settle disputes.

For decades the saying was used at pro-Prohibition rallies and meetings. Also, at the turn of the century the saying was adopted by some educators who presented it as a moral rule that children should learn about. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Your Liberty To Swing Your Fist Ends Just Where My Nose Begins

Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Abraham Lincoln? Ambrose Burnside? Charles Fair?

Dear Quote Investigator: One of the worst military strategists in history was a Civil War general named Ambrose Burnside (sideburns are named after his whiskers). After a military fiasco called the Battle of the Crater, Abraham Lincoln relieved him of command and supposedly said:

Only Burnside could have managed such a coup, wringing one last spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory.

The phrase “defeat from the jaws of victory” might be a cliché now, but I think Lincoln was one of the first to use it in this powerful quotation. Unfortunately, I am having trouble finding any solid references to this quote from before the 1970s. Can you tell me where I can find it in a Civil War newspaper, or a diary, or some other document from the era?

Quote Investigator: You have stumbled upon a Lincoln legend based on a false quotation. A fascinating newspaper article from 1971 states that the saying began as a mistake on the cover of the book “From the Jaws of Victory” by Charles Fair [LCF]:

Continue reading Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

Abraham Lincoln? Mark Twain? Biblical Proverb? Maurice Switzer? Arthur Burns? John Maynard Keynes? Confucius? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an entertaining saying that is usually credited to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.

It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.

The phrasing is different, but I think these two statements express the same thought. When I mentioned this adage to a friend he claimed that it was in the Bible, but it does not sound very Biblical to me. Can you resolve this dispute?

Quote Investigator: There is a biblical proverb that expresses a similar idea, namely Proverbs 17:28. Here is the New International Version followed by the King James Version of this verse: 1

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

The quotations that the questioner listed use a distinctive formulation that is certainly more humorous. In the biblical version one is thought wise if one remains silent, but in the questioner’s statements the word “wise” is not used. Remaining silent simply allows one to avoid the fate of being thought a fool or stupid. This maxim has many different forms, and it is often ascribed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain. However, there is no substantive evidence that either of these famous individuals employed the maxim.

The wonderful Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) 2 investigated the saying and presented the earliest known attribution to Lincoln in Golden Book magazine in November 1931: 3

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
— ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

Since Lincoln died in 1865 this is a suspiciously late instance, and it provides very weak evidence. Further, YBQ indicated that the phrase was in use years before this date with no attachment to Lincoln. The ascription of the saying to Mark Twain is also dubious.

When Ken Burns filmed a documentary about Mark Twain in 2001 a companion book was released, and it listed the following version of the quote in a section titled “What Twain Didn’t Say”: 4

Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

The earliest known appearance of the adage discovered by QI occurred in a book titled “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer. The publication date was 1907 and the copyright notice was 1906. The book was primarily filled with clever nonsense verse, and the phrasing in this early version was slightly different: 5

It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.

Most of the humorous content of “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” has the imprint of originality, and based on currently available data QI  believes that Maurice Switzer is the leading candidate for originator of the expression. This 1906 citation was also given in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”, an indispensable new reference work from Yale University Press. 6

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

Notes:

  1. Proverbs 17:28 has many translations. Here is a link to a webpage with several from the Online Parallel Bible Project of Biblos.com. (Accessed Bible.cc on October 24, 2012) link
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Abraham Lincoln, Page 466, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1931 November, Golden Book Magazine, Volume 14, Quote Page 306, Published by The Review of Reviews Corporation, Albert Shaw, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2001, Mark Twain by Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward, Based on a Documentary by Ken Burns, Section: What Twain Didn’t Say, Page 189, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1907, “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer, Page 29, Moffat, Yard & Company, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  6. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 83, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)