Music Is the Most Unpleasant and the Most Expensive of All Noises

Théophile Gautier? Molière? Alphonse Karr? Alexander Dumas père? A Mathematician? Prince Albert? Joseph Coyne? Honoré de Balzac? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Operas and orchestra concerts are quite expensive productions. A deprecatory wit once grumbled about the outlays. Here are three versions:

  • Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.
  • Opera is the most expensive variety of noise.
  • Music is the most expensive of all noises.

This thought has been attributed to the prominent French playwright Molière, but I have been unable to find a good citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1845 book “Zigzags” by Théophile Gautier, a French dramatist, novelist, and critic; however, Gautier disclaimed credit and ascribed the barb to an unnamed “géomètre” (“mathematician”). Here is an excerpt in French followed by one possible English translation. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Un soir, j’étais à Drury-Lane. On jouait la Favorite, accommodée au goût britannique, et traduite dans la langue de l’île, ce qui produisait un vacarme difficile à qualifier, et justifiait parfaitement le mot d’un géomètre, qui n’était pas mélomane assurément. — La musique est le plus désagréable et le plus cher de tous les bruits. — Aussi j’écoutais peu, et j’avais le dos tourné au théâtre.

One night I was at Drury Lane. The opera was La Favorite, adapted to the British taste and translated into the language of the island. This produced a din that is difficult to categorize, and perfectly justified the quip of a mathematician, who was certainly not a music lover. — Music is the most unpleasant and the most expensive of all noises. — So I listened little, and my back was turned to the theater.

Molière (pen name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) died in 1673, and the earliest linkage of the playwright to the saying found by QI appeared many years later in 1956. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Music Is the Most Unpleasant and the Most Expensive of All Noises

Notes:

  1. 1845, Zigzags par Théophile Gautier, Chapter VI: Têtes d’anges, Quote Page 243 and 244, Victor Magen, Éditeur, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link

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?

rose07Dear 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