Freedom of the Press Is Guaranteed Only to Those Who Own One

A. J. Liebling? H. L. Mencken? Norman Woelfel? Arthur Calwell?

Dear Quote Investigator: There exists a famously sardonic remark about the media and control. Here are four versions:

1) Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.
2) Freedom of the press is confined to the people who own one.
3) Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.
4) Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

The underpinnings of this adage may be shifting because of the ubiquity of the internet, but I still think it is compelling. These words have been attributed to commentator H. L. Mencken and journalist A. J. Liebling. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: An exact match to the fourth expression was printed in the “The New Yorker” magazine in 1960. A. J. Liebling wrote an essay titled “The Wayward Press: Do You Belong in Journalism?” that included the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The best thing Congress could do to keep more newspapers going would be to raise the capital-gains tax to the level of the income tax. (Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.) There are irresistible reasons for a businessman either to buy or to sell, and anybody who owns the price of a newspaper nowadays must be a businessman.

The motivation of Liebling’s stylistic choice to place the statement between parentheses was not completely clear. It was possible that he was repeating an existing adage. Nevertheless, the top reference works today credit Liebling based on this 1960 citation. 2 3

Interestingly, strong thematic matches appeared in the 1940s as shown below, but the phrasing was not as elegant and compact. Also, these earlier comments did not display a humorous edge.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Freedom of the Press Is Guaranteed Only to Those Who Own One

Notes:

  1. 1960 May 14, The New Yorker, “The Wayward Press: Do You Belong in Journalism?” by A. J. Liebling, Start Page 105, Quote Page 109, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section A. J. Liebling, Quote Page 459, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 172 and 319, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

He Who Laughs, Lasts

Mary Pettibone Poole? W. E. Nesom? George F. Worts? H. L. Mencken? Joe Laurie Jr.? Franklin P. Adams? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous proverb that asserts the last person to laugh is the person who laughs the best or the longest. I am interested in a cleverly modified statement emphasizing the connection between humor and longevity:

He who laughs—lasts.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: For many years this comical remark has been ascribed to Mary Pettibone Poole who published a compilation of quotations and quips in 1938 with the vividly absurdist title “A Glass Eye at a Keyhole”. Poole placed this joke in a section “Beggars Can’t Be Losers”: 1

He who laughs, lasts!

None of the statements in Poole’s work were given attributions, and some were probably original; however, many were not. QI can now report some earlier instances of the joke above.

In November 1917 the humor magazine “Judge” printed a poem by W. E. Nesom titled “Perverted Proverbs” that playfully modified adages. The fifth stanza was the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

If laughter be an aid to health,
Then logic of the strongest
Impels us to the cheerful thought
That he who laughs lasts longest.

The above citation was located by top researcher Stephen Goranson, and W. E. Nesom may have been the originator of this proverbial twist. Currently, this is the earliest evidence known to QI.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Who Laughs, Lasts

Notes:

  1. 1938, A Glass Eye at a Keyhole by Mary Pettibone Poole, Section: Beggars Can’t Be Losers, Quote Page 40, Published by Dorrance and Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)
  2. 1917 November 3, Judge, Poem: Perverted Proverbs by W. E. Nesom (Fifth stanza), Unnumbered Page (2 pages away from back cover), Column 3, Published by Leslie-Judge Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

The Philosopher, the Theologian, and the Elusive Black Cat

Julian Huxley? H. L. Mencken? Lewis Browne? Eric Temple Bell? William James? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The QI website has an article tracing a quip about a problematic absurdist quest:

A metaphysician is a man who goes into a dark cellar at midnight without a light looking for a black cat that is not there.

Interestingly, there is a more elaborate joke that contrasts the searching prowess of a philosopher and a theologian. Are you familiar with this jest which has been attributed to the prominent biologist Julian Huxley and the Sage of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Julian Huxley did present the double-pronged joke in an essay published in 1939, and H. L. Mencken included an instance in his monumental 1942 compilation “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources”. Details for these citations are given further below.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared several years before this in a 1931 book titled “Since Calvary: An Interpretation of Christian History” by the comparative religion specialist Lewis Browne. The sharpest barb was aimed at a set of religious individuals called Gnostics: 1

Someone has said that a philosopher looking for the ultimate truth is like a blind man on a dark night searching in a subterranean cave for a black cat that is not there. Those Gnostics, however, were theologians rather than philosophers, and so—they found the cat!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Philosopher, the Theologian, and the Elusive Black Cat

Notes:

  1. 1931, Since Calvary: An Interpretation of Christian History by Lewis Browne, Quote Page 81 and 82, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Internet Archive) link

Melancholy Is the Pleasure of Being Sad

Victor Hugo? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

hugo11Dear Quote Investigator: Melancholy is a complex and sometimes puzzling emotion. The composite nature of the sensation is expressed by the following:

Melancholia is the joy of feeling sad.
Melancholy is the happiness of being sad.
Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.

I believe that this statement was crafted by a prominent author, but I cannot remember his or her name. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1866 the major French literary figure Victor Hugo published “Les Travailleurs de la Mer” which was later released under the English title “The Toilers of the Sea”. This work included the saying under investigation. Here is an excerpt in French followed by a translation from 1888. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Le désespoir a des degrés remontants. De l’accablement on monte à l’abattement, de l’abattement à l’affliction, de l’affliction à la mélancolie. La mélancolie est un crépuscule. La souffrance s’y fond dans une sombre joie.
La mélancolie, c’est le bonheur d’être triste.

Despair has ascending degrees. From prostration one mounts to despondency, from despondency to affliction, from affliction to melancholy. Melancholy is a twilight. Suffering melts into it in sombre joy.
Melancholy is the happiness of being sad.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Melancholy Is the Pleasure of Being Sad

Notes:

  1. 1866, Les Travailleurs de la Mer by Victor Hugo, (The Toilers of the Sea), Volume 2, Part 3, Section: La Cloche du Port, Quote Page 154, Librairie Internationale, A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1888, The Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo, Translator: Isabel F. Hapgood, Volume 1, Section: The Bell of the Port, Quote Page 196, Published by Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Bigamy Is Having One Spouse Too Many. Monogamy Is the Same

Erica Jong? Oscar Wilde? Robert Webster Jones? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: As a single person I enjoy the following joke about bigamy. Here are two versions:

(1) Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.

(2) Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.

The first has been attributed to the best-selling novelist Erica Jong, and the second has been credited to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. I haven’t been able to find this remark in the works of Wilde. Are these ascriptions accurate?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 Erica Jong published a scandalous blockbuster titled “Fear of Flying” and the first chapter used the following as an epigraph: 1

Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.
—Anonymous (a woman)

Note that Jong did not credit herself indicating that the joke was already in circulation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde wrote or said this joke. The variant using “wife” instead of “husband” does have a long history. In 1922 the book “Light Interviews with Shades” by Robert Webster Jones included a quip that displayed several points of similarity including the use of matching vocabulary terms “bigamy” and “monogamy”: 2

They say bigamy means one wife too many; but so does monogamy sometimes.

Precursor jokes on this theme were being disseminated by 1841 as shown below. QI believes that the modern quip evolved from these antecedents.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Bigamy Is Having One Spouse Too Many. Monogamy Is the Same

Notes:

  1. 1973, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, (Epigraph of Chapter 1), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified on paper in 3rd printing July 1974)
  2. 1922, Light Interviews with Shades by Robert Webster Jones, Chapter 1: Bluebeard Tells Why He Killed Wives, Quote Page 18, Published by Dorrance & Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link

Every Election Is a Sort of Advance Auction Sale of Stolen Goods

Ambrose Bierce? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a comically acerbic remark about elections that is often attributed to the famous cynic Ambrose Bierce:

An election is nothing more than the advanced auction of stolen goods.

Several of my friends have told me that these are actually the words of the influential journalist and pundit H. L. Mencken, but no one seems to have a precise citation. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Ambrose Bierce said or wrote this comment.

In 1956 the press of Johns Hopkins University released an important compilation of essays by H. L. Mencken under the title “A Carnival of Buncombe” edited by Malcolm Moos. An essay called “Sham Battle” was published in the “Baltimore Evening Sun” on October 26, 1936, and it has been reprinted in this collection. Mencken presented an uncompromisingly harsh evaluation of the electoral process. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The state—or, to make the matter more concrete, the government—consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Government, of course, has other functions, and some of them are useful and even valuable. It is supposed, in theory, to keep the peace, and also to protect the citizen against acts of God and the public enemy.

QI believes that the modern version of the saying was derived from the 1936 passage above.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Election Is a Sort of Advance Auction Sale of Stolen Goods

Notes:

  1. 1956, A Carnival of Buncombe by H. L. Mencken, Edited by Malcolm Moos, Sham Battle by H. L. Mencken Start Page 323, Quote Page 325, (“Baltimore Evening Sun” article dated October 26, 1936), Published by Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Maryland. (Verified on paper in 1956 book)(At this time QI has not directly confirmed the presence of the essay in the “Baltimore Evening Sun” on the date specified. The quotation does not seem to be present in the ProQuest database of the “Baltimore Sun”. This is understandable because the content in the morning and evening editions of “The Sun” differed)

The Urge to Save Humanity is Almost Always Only a False-Face for the Urge to Rule It

H.L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following saying is credited to H.L. Mencken on several websites, and I found it in some quotation dictionaries. But I cannot find it directly in any works written by Mencken. Could you tell me if the attribution is correct?

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-front for the urge to rule it.

Quote Investigator: I sympathize with your inability to find this adage using electronic searches. Locating this saying is tricky because the key word “false-front” is incorrect. Here is the phrase with some additional context as it appeared in “Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks” which were first published in 1956 [MRH]:

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it. Power is what all messiahs really seek: not the chance to serve. This is true even of the pious brethren who carry the gospel to foreign parts.

The first sentence above was altered to yield the common modern variant by replacing “false-face” with “false-front” and by deleting the word “only”. It is not clear when or where this modification took place.

Continue reading The Urge to Save Humanity is Almost Always Only a False-Face for the Urge to Rule It

Why Should Any Man Be Allowed to Buy a Printing Press and Disseminate Pernicious Opinions?

Vladimir Lenin? Winston Churchill? George Riddell? H. L. Mencken? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: I was thumbing through The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations to try and find a good saying about freedom of the press and I was stunned to see this hostile sentence [OPQ]:

As to freedom of the press, why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?

These words were attributed to Winston Churchill based on a 1984 biography by Piers Brendon [WPB]. But these same words were attributed to Vladimir Lenin in another collection of quotations I read recently and that is why I was astounded. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the book. Now I am starting to doubt my memory. Could you research this quote?

Quote Investigator: Thanks for a fascinating puzzle. Indeed, most of this sentence does appear as part of a longer passage that is attributed to Vladimir Lenin in a famous compilation published in 1942 called “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken”. The name Nikolai Lenin is used instead of Vladimir Lenin in Mencken’s reference work [NQL]:

Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?

NIKOLAI LENIN: Speech in Moscow, 1920

QI has traced this expression back to a diary entry that was written in 1920 by George Riddell who was a powerful newspaperman and close friend of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George. Riddell later became the 1st Baron Riddell. The text in Mencken’s reference is very similar to the text in Riddell’s diary, but it is not identical.

Riddell mentioned both Churchill and Lenin in a crucial passage of his diary. But QI believes that Riddell was describing a speech by Lenin and not the words of Churchill. Hence, QI thinks that the ascription to Churchill is almost certainly incorrect.

Continue reading Why Should Any Man Be Allowed to Buy a Printing Press and Disseminate Pernicious Opinions?