This Is the Only Place Where I Can Avoid Seeing the Damned Thing

Speaker: William Morris? Guy de Maupassant? Alexander Hadden? Elliot Paul? Gillian Widdicombe? Adlai Stevenson? Anonymous?

Landmark: Eiffel Tower? National Theatre in London? Palace of Culture in Warsaw? Empire State Building?

Dear Quote Investigator: Cultural critics have lamented that some massive structures dominating city skylines are unsightly, e.g., the Eiffel Tower, the National Theatre in London, and the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.

A popular anecdote states that a well-known literary figure frequently visited one of these ugly monuments. An acquaintance who found the luminary gazing out across the metropolis from the observation deck of the landmark inquired about motivation:

“As a regular visitor to this site, do you find this structure beautiful?”
“Of course not! This is the only place in the city where I can look out and avoid seeing this hideous thing.”

Would you please explore this acerbic tale?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1914 report from the Manchester Literary Club of England. The brief note described a meeting of the club during which a member named Alexander Hadden presented a paper about the city of Paris. The following passage about prominent writer and activist William Morris included a punchline that was spoiled by a typo. The word “can” was supposed to be “can’t”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Incidentally it was mentioned that William Morris was a frequent visitor to Paris, and when there his friends noticed that he spent a considerable part of his time high upon the Eiffel Tower. When asked the reason for this he replied, “That is the only place where you can see the damned thing.”

Morris died in 1896, so the citation above provides imperfect evidence. Nevertheless, Morris is the leading candidate for crafter of this quip. This anecdote has been difficult to trace because of its multiplicity of embodiments.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This Is the Only Place Where I Can Avoid Seeing the Damned Thing


  1. 1914, Report and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary Club for the Session 1913-14 with Rules and List of Members, Article Date: January 12, 1914, Comment on article titled: Paris by Alex. Hadden, Quote Page 434, Sherratt and Hughes, Manchester, England. (HathiTrust) link

If You Stop Telling Lies About Us We Will Stop Telling the Truth About You

Adlai Stevenson? William Randolph Hearst? Chauncey Depew? Asa W. Tenney? Harold Wilson? Michael Douglas? Gordon Gekko? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several politicians have attacked the prevarications of opponents by employing a quip from a family of humorous sayings. Here are two examples:

  • If they will not lie about our past, we will not tell the truth about their past.
  • If they are willing to stop telling lies about us then we will stop telling the truth about them.

A statement of this type has been credited to U.S. Senator and raconteur Chauncey Depew; newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst; and U.S. Governor and diplomat Adlai Stevenson II. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Chauncey Depew did deliver a quip within this family in 1892. William Randolph Hearst employed an instance in 1906, and Adlai Stevenson used an instance during a speech in 1952. Tracing this family is difficult because of its mutability. Yet, the evidence clearly shows that the saying was in circulation before it was used by the individuals above.

A precursor appeared in a Kansas newspaper in 1884, and QI hypothesizes that the template of this remark facilitated the emergence of the family under analysis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Democratic press cries out, “If you do not stop telling the truth on CLEVELAND, we will manufacture some lies about BLAINE.”

In July 1888 another precursor appeared in an Indiana newspaper: 2

If Democratic papers continue their lying about General Harrison they may finally goad Republicans into telling the truth about Cleveland.

In September 1888 Judge Asa W. Tenney of Brooklyn delivered a speech that was reported in the “Buffalo Evening News” of Buffalo, New York. The following excerpt included the first instance within the family of sayings under examination. The passage contained the misspelling “Tenny” for “Tenney”: 3

Judge Tenny rang the changes of ridicule upon the President’s message and said: “It’s too late, Father Cleveland, to talk about reform when 137 convicts have been appointed by you to offices of high trust; It’s too late; you ought to have thought about reform when you lived in Buffalo.

“But I’ll not pursue this subject. The Republicans and Democrats have made a solemn contract that if the Democrats will stop lying about Harrison the Republicans will stop telling the truth about Cleveland.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Stop Telling Lies About Us We Will Stop Telling the Truth About You


  1. 1884 August 7, The Atchison Daily Champion, (Untitled filter item), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1888 July 14, The Indianapolis Journal, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1888 September 27, Buffalo Evening News, Judge Tenney’s Address, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness

Eleanor Roosevelt? Confucius? Chinese Proverb? William L. Watkinson? E. Pomeroy Cutler? James Keller? Oliver Wendell Holmes? Adlai Stevenson? John F. Kennedy? Charles Schulz?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love the emphasis on constructive action in the following saying:

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

These words have been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, and several other people. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest appearance located by QI occurred in a 1907 collection titled “The Supreme Conquest and Other Sermons Preached in America” by William L. Watkinson. A sermon titled “The Invincible Strategy” downplayed the value of verbal attacks on undesirable behaviors and championed the importance of performing good works. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.

In September 1907 Watkinson’s sermon “The Invincible Strategy” was reprinted in a periodical called “China’s Millions” which was published by a Protestant Christian missionary society based in China. 2

Thus, the expression was disseminated to a group of people in China. Nowadays, the words are sometimes ascribed to Confucius or labeled a Chinese proverb, but QI has not found compelling evidence to support that assignment.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness


  1. 1907 Copyright, The Supreme Conquest and Other Sermons Preached in America by W. L. Watkinson (William Lonsdale Watkinson), Sermon XIV: The Invincible Strategy, (Romans: xii, 21), Start Page 206, Quote Page 217 and 218, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1907 September, China’s Millions, The Invincible Strategy by Rev. Wm. L. Watkinson, (Sermon printed by special permission of the Methodist Publishing House from the book “The Supreme Conquest” by W. L. Watkinson), Start Page 135, Quote Page 137, Column 2, Morgan and Scott, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There

Elvis Presley? Dwight D. Eisenhower? The White Rabbit? Clint Eastwood? Martin Gabel? Adlai Stevenson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some humorous quotations are created by cleverly transforming prosaic expressions. Most people are familiar with the exhortation:

Don’t just stand there, do something.

However, occasionally inaction is preferable, and the following rearranged sentence has been employed:

Don’t just do something, stand there.

I have seen these words attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clint Eastwood, and Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit. Any idea who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in the popular syndicated gossip column of Leonard Lyons in 1945. The phrase was used by an actor and producer named Martin Gabel: 1

At the first rehearsal of Irwin Shaw’s play, “The Assassin,” Producer Martin Gabel noticed a young actress gesticulating wildly instead of remaining motionless. Gabel shouted: “Don’t just do something; stand there.”

This quip has been used by many people over the years including politician Adlai Stevenson and Hollywood star Clint Eastwood.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There


  1. 1945 August 31, Amarillo Daily News, The Lyon’s Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Amarillo, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)

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 following statement appeared in an 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


  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)