Tag Archives: Aldous Huxley

The Stupid Person’s Idea of the Clever Person

Speaker: Julie Burchill? Elizabeth Bowen? Ezra Klein? Paul Krugman? Andrew Sullivan? Hermione Eyre? William Donaldson?

Target: Stephen Fry? Aldous Huxley? Dick Armey? Newt Gingrich?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I heard an uncomplimentary quip applied to an intellectual. Here are three versions:

  • The stupid person’s idea of a clever person
  • The dumb person’s idea of a smart person
  • The stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like

Would you please help me to trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1936 Irish author Elizabeth Bowen published a review in the London periodical “The Spectator” of a book by Aldous Huxley. She began her piece with a pointed remark about Huxley: 1

Mr. Huxley has been the alarming young man for a long time, a sort of perpetual clever nephew who can be relied on to flutter the lunch-party.

Interestingly, Bowen employed the saying under analysis, but she did not imply that Huxley was stupid; instead, she reiterated that he was clever. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

He is at once the truly clever person and the stupid person’s idea of the clever person; he is expected to be relentless, to administer intellectual shocks.

Many others have used similar constructs, but Elizabeth Bowen’s remark is currently the earliest known instance.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1936 December 11, The Spectator, Mr. Huxley’s Essays by Elizabeth Bowen (Review of The Olive Tree and Other Essays by Aldous Huxley), Quote Page 24, London, England. (Online archive at archive.spectator.co.uk; accessed January 3, 2018)

I Wanted To Change the World. But I Have Found That the Only Thing One Can Be Sure of Changing Is Oneself

Aldous Huxley? William C. Hunter? Jacob Feuerring? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When Aldous Huxley, the author of the famous dystopian novel “Brave New World”, was young he was eager to change the world. Yet, as he grew older he concluded that he could only change himself with any confidence. Would you please help me to find his statement on this topic?

Quote Investigator: In July 1961 “The Observer” newspaper of London printed a set of quotations under the title “Sayings of the Week” which included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself. Mr. Aldous Huxley.

This citation is not ideal because the quotation did not appear directly in an interview or article by Huxley; however, currently it is the best evidence located by QI. Huxley died a couple years later in November 1963 when he was 69 years old.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1961 July 2, The Observer, Section: Weekend Review, Sayings of the Week, Quote Page 32, Column 2, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

The Plays of Shakespeare Were Not Written by Shakespeare but by Another Man of the Same Name

Mark Twain? Oxford Student? Frenchman? Lewis Carroll? Schoolchild? G. K. Chesterton? Israel Zangwill? Charles Lamb? Benjamin Jowett? Aldous Huxley? Anonymous?

quill08Dear Quote Investigator: Determining the accurate provenance of famous plays and poems can be a contentious topic. According to tradition the composer of the Iliad and Odyssey has been referred to as Homer, but some question this ascription and wonder whether there may have been more than one “Homer”. The authorship of the works ascribed to Shakespeare has also been challenged for many years. Candidates for the Bard’s secret identity have included Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Christopher Marlowe. The fractious arguments about origins have inspired a family of jokes. Here are two examples:

The Homeric Poems were not written by Homer, but by another person of the same name.

The plays of Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare but by another man of the same name.

These remarks have been connected to well-known humorists and literary figures, e.g., Mark Twain, G. K. Chesterton, Lewis Carroll, Israel Zangwill, and Aldous Huxley. Would you please explore the history of these expressions?

Quote Investigator: Because these jokes can be stated in many ways they are difficult to trace. The earliest strong match known to QI was published in “The Spectator” of London in 1860. A news item by an unnamed writer discussed the possible discovery of a new planet and then made a joke about Shakespearean authorship theories: 1

This rivals the new discovery about Shakespeare,—that the well-known plays and poems were not by William Shakespeare, but by another person of the same name!

An analogous quip about Homer was published in a periodical in Oxford, England in 1874. Celebrated writers, such as Mark Twain and G. K. Chesterton, did employ versions of this joke, but they did not claim coinage. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1860 January 14, The Spectator, Volume 33, The “New Planet” and Its Discoverers, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Column 1, Published by Joseph Clayton, Wellington Street, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

There Are Things Known, and Things Unknown, and In Between Are the Doors

Jim Morrison? Ray Manzarek? Aldous Huxley? William Blake?

morrisonblakewords04Dear Quote Investigator: One of the best rock groups in history is The Doors, and its legendary front man Jim Morrison was one of the greatest rock stars ever. That is my opinion. But I am sending you this message because I want your opinion concerning a quotation:

There are things known, and things unknown, and in between are the Doors.

I was told that this sentence is the explanation that Jim Morrison gave when he was asked how the name of his band was chosen. But I have also been told that the major Romantic figure, poet, and painter William Blake came up with the saying. And somebody else claims that the writer, mystic, and experientialist Aldous Huxley was the creative intellect behind this insight. Could you disentangle this?

Quote Investigator: William Blake’s circa 1790 work “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” contained a quote that famously spoke of perception and metaphorical doorways:

If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite.

Aldous Huxley wrote a 1954 book called “The Doors of Perception” that discussed his experiences with psychoactive agents; its title was an allusion to Blake’s work. But QI has not located the quotation under investigation in the texts of Blake or Huxley.

QI believes that the quote was derived from the words of the musician Ray Manzarek who together with Jim Morrison co-founded The Doors. In 1967 Newsweek magazine profiled the rock group and quoted Manzarek saying the following [NRM]:

There are things you know about, and things you don’t, the known and the unknown, and in between are the doors—that’s us.

QI hypothesizes that this quotation was streamlined and then the words were reassigned to more prominent figures such as Jim Morrison, Aldous Huxley and William Blake.

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