Buckminster Fuller? Thomas Fuller? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent inventor and author Buckminster Fuller has been linked to an uncharacteristic quotation:
Those who play with the devil’s toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.
Would you please determine whether he wrote and said this remark?
Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Buckminster Fuller employed the words above. Instead, QI believes that the expression evolved from a statement written by Thomas Fuller who was an influential English historian and religious figure of the seventeenth century.
In 1642 Thomas Fuller released “The Profane State”, and it included a section about witches. Fuller stated that some individuals initially engaged in witchcraft defensively; they cast spells and charms to shield themselves against the plots and intrigues of adversaries. However, over time they began to wield power offensively and actively assaulted others. The following excerpt contained “floures” which was an alternative spelling of “flowers”. Boldface has been added: 1
She begins at first with doing tricks rather strange then hurtfull: yea some of them are pretty and pleasing. But it is dangerous to gather floures that grow on the banks of the pit of hell, for fear of falling in; yea they which play with the devils rattles, will be brought by degrees to wield his sword, and from making of sport they come to doing of mischief.
The apostrophe in the possessive phrase “devil’s rattles” was missing in the original text. Also, in the modern quotation the phrase was changed to “devil’s toys”.
During the ensuing years the words above were sometimes reprinted with the short ambiguous ascription: “Fuller”. Someone probably misunderstood this ascription and reassigned the words from Thomas Fuller to Buckminster Fuller.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.