Tag Archives: Henry Ward Beecher

Put Fire Into This Speech? You Should Put This Speech Into the Fire

Winston Churchill? Henry Ward Beecher? Professor Matthews? Elias J. MacEwan?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a young Member of Parliament approached Winston Churchill with a copy of an address he was planning to deliver and asked him how he could put more fire into it. Churchill responded:

Put fire into this speech? I suggest you put this speech into the fire.

Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that this tale about Churchill is genuine. He died in 1965, and a version of the punchline was attributed to him by 1988.

The humor of the statement under analysis is heightened by the use of antimetabole: a clause is repeated with the key words “fire” and “speech” transposed. The first instance of this antimetabole located by QI was published in a Crown Point, Indiana newspaper in 1879. Extracts from a speech about oration by a person identified as Professor Matthews contained the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“The man who can’t put fire into his speeches, should put his speeches into the fire.”

“The speaking eye, the apt gesture, the written word, and the sculptured or pointed image are comparatively dead things; it is the voice that has life—the power to thrill, to exalt, to melt, to persuade, and to appal.”

This expression was not identical to the one being explored, but the rhetorical technique was the same. This passage also appeared in other Indiana newspapers in 1879 such as the one in North Manchester. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1879 February 20, The Crown Point Register, Extracts From Prof. Matthews’, “Orator and Orators”, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Crown Point, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1879 February 20, North Manchester Journal, Extracts From Prof. Matthews’ “Orator and Orators”, Quote Page 1, Column 7, North Manchester, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)

April Fool: Signed His Name and Forgot to Write the Letter

Henry Ward Beecher? Apocryphal?

beecher08Dear Quote Investigator: Are you familiar with the amusing anecdote about an “April Fool” letter sent to the famous orator Henry Ward Beecher. Would you please examine the tale’s provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI was published on April 27, 1870 in the “Daily Evening Traveller” of Boston, Massachusetts. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

SIGNING ONE’S NAME.—Mr. Beecher sends the following note to the N. Y. Ledger:

“MY DEAR MR. BONNER, —I have just received a curious letter from Michigan, and I give it to you verbatim:

“OWASSO CITY, Mich., 1870.

I have heard of men who wrote letters and forgot to sign their name, but never before met a case in which a man signed his name and forgot to write the letter. H.W.B.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located the citation above.

The text indicated that the tale was reprinted from “The New York Ledger”; hence, an earlier instance exists, but QI has not located it. The database GenealogyBank includes digital scans of “The New York Ledger” from 1856 to 1868. But the target date of 1870 lies outside of this range. Some future researcher may find an earlier instance.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1870 April 27, Daily Evening Traveller (Boston Traveler), Section: Supplement, Article: Signing One’s Name, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

There Are Two Lasting Bequests We Can Give Our Children: Roots and Wings

Henry Ward Beecher? Jonas Salk? Hodding Carter? Wise Woman? Ronald Reagan? Jean W. Rindlaub? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: The goals of child rearing have sometimes been explicated using two vivid metaphors: roots and wings. This contrasting figurative language presents a powerful though oddly incongruous combination:

Parents should provide their children with roots and wings.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other wings.

Good parents give their children roots and wings: roots to know where home is, and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught them.

Expressions of this type have been linked to the clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, the scientist Jonas Salk, and the journalist Hodding Carter. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI was published in 1953 in the book “Where Main Street Meets the River” by Hodding Carter who was a prominent newspaper editor. The expression was credited to an anonymous “wise woman”. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence.

QI has found no substantive evidence that the well-known nineteenth-century minister Henry Ward Beecher used this expression. There is some evidence that the famous research scientist Jonas Salk employed a version of the saying, but citations occurred many years after Carter’s instance was already in circulation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1953, Where Main Street Meets the River by Hodding Carter, Chapter 27: It’s How We like It, Quote Page 337, Published by Rinehart & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

Speak When You’re Angry and You’ll Make the Best Speech You’ll Ever Regret

Ambrose Bierce? Henry Ward Beecher? Laurence J. Peter? Groucho Marx? Harry H. Jones? Anonymous?

bierce06Dear Quote Investigator: The rant of an enraged person often contains statements that necessitate contrite apologies later. Here is an adage reflecting this insight:

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

These words have been attributed to the preacher Henry Ward Beecher, the humorist Ambrose Bierce, and the quotation compiler Laurence J. Peter. Do you know who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI points to a famous comedian who is rarely mentioned in conjunction with this saying. In June 1954 a column titled “Inside TV” by Eve Starr was published in a North Carolina newspaper, and Starr reported on two jokes told by Groucho Marx during his show. Boldface has been added: 1

Groucho quips: “It takes a heap of spending to make a house a home.” His best advice to contestants is: “If you speak when angry, you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Ambrose Bierce did write a parody fable that was tangentially related to this theme, and a detailed citation for this short tale is given below. However, QI has found no substantive evidence that Bierce wrote or spoke this quotation. Oddly, a major reference work stated that the expression appeared in Bierce’s “The Cynic’s Word Book” of 1906 which is better known under its later title “The Devil’s Dictionary”. However, QI has examined multiple editions of this book and the quotation was absent.

The misattribution to Henry Ward Beecher was based on an incorrect reading of an entry in a 1977 quotation collection created by Laurence J. Peter. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1954 November 3, Greensboro Record, Inside TV by Eve Starr, Quote Page B3, Column 4, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)