Winston Churchill? Stephen Fry? Henry James Byron? W. Davenport Adams? Aubrey Stewart? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The recent memoir by English comedian and actor Stephen Fry contains the following intriguing remark: 1
‘Young men sow wild oats, old men grow sage,’ Churchill is reputed to have said. It almost never is Churchill. In fact collectors of quotations call such laziness in attribution ‘Churchillian creep’.
Was this wordplay created by Winston Churchill?
Quote Investigator: There is some evidence that Churchill employed this quip on his 77th birthday, but it was circulating before he was born.
The earliest appearance located by QI was in a play titled “The Pilgrim of Love! A Fairy Romance” by Henry James Byron which was first performed in 1860. In the following passage a character was afraid that he was losing control of a young person he was responsible for mentoring. Emphasis added by QI: 2
I’m getting on, and so, as his majority
Approaches, I observe that my authority
Declines—but youth, we know, will have its fling,
And there’s a period for everything.
This gardener’s rule applies to youth and age,
When young sow wild oats, but when old grow sage.
Regarding Stephen Fry’s phrase ‘Churchillian creep’, it was probably inspired by the term ‘Churchillian drift’ coined by top quotation researcher Nigel Rees. 3
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2015 (Copyright 2014), More Fool Me: A Memoir by Stephen Fry, Chapter: The Early Days, Section: Waiting for My Man, The Overlook Press: Peter Mayer Publishers, New York. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- Date: First Performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarker (under the management of Mr. Buckstone), on Easter Monday, April 9th, 1860, Title: The Pilgrim of Love! A Fairy Romance, in One Act, Author: Henry James Byron, Scene: 1, Character Speaking: Ebben Bonannen, Start Page 5, Quote Page 6, Publisher: Thomas Hailes Lacy, London (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- The Quote Unquote Newsletter 1992-1996, Issue: April 1993, Volume 2, Number 2, Edited by Nigel Rees, Article: The Vagueness Is All, Newsletter Published and distributed by Nigel Rees, Hillgate Place, London, Website: www.quote-unquote.org.uk link (Compilation 1992-1996 available as Kindle ebook) ↩