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

Notes:

  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

The Pleasure Is Momentary, the Position Is Ridiculous, the Expense Is Damnable

Lord Chesterfield? Hilaire Belloc? D. H. Lawrence? George Bernard Shaw? Alexander Duffield? Somerset Maugham? Elliot Paul? Samuel Hopkins Adams? Benjamin Franklin? P. D. James? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Lord Chesterfield reportedly crafted an outrageously humorous description of intimate relations. I’ve seen different versions that each comment on pleasure, position, and expense. Yet, I have never seen a proper citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, is typically referred to as Lord Chesterfield. Researchers have been unable to find the statement about eros in his writings, and the words were ascribed to him many years after his death in 1773.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a letter sent to the editors of “The Western Daily Press” in Bristol, England in 1902. The subject was the standardization of equipment for golf, and the word “amusement” was employed to avoid terms such as “intercourse” or “sex”. “Attitude” is a synonym for “posture”. In addition, the taboos of the era dictated the replacement of “damnable” by dashes. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If there is to be no limit to the fancy or ingenuity of club and ball makers, I am afraid the dictum of a certain American, speaking of another amusement, will be applicable to golf, viz., “that the pleasure is momentary, the attitudes ridiculous, and the expense —–“

So, the expression was circulating by 1902, but the printed evidence is limited. Interestingly, it was credited to an American instead of an Englishman.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading The Pleasure Is Momentary, the Position Is Ridiculous, the Expense Is Damnable

Notes:

  1. 1902 November 20, The Western Daily Press, Correspondence To The Editors of The Western Daily Press, (Letter Title: Standardisation of the Golf Ball, Letter From: W.L.B. of Clifton; Letter Date: November 17, 1902), Quote Page 3, Column 7, Bristol, England. (British Newspaper Archive)