His Grace Returned From the Wars This Morning and Pleasured Me Twice in His Top-Boots

Sarah Churchill? James Agate? A. L. Rowse? Theodor Reik? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A legend asserts that Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough wrote a passionate remark in her diary. Here are three versions:

  1. Today the Duke returned from the war and pleasured me twice in his top boots.
  2. My Lord on returning pleasured me thrice without removing his boots.
  3. His Lordship returned from the wars this morning, and pleasured me thrice in his top-boots!

Are any of these statements genuine? What evidence is available?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to explore this topic, and the available evidence is weak. Sarah Churchill died in 1744, and the first citation known to QI appeared almost two hundred years later in the diaristic autobiography of English theatre critic James Agate. The fourth volume of his autobiography titled “Ego 4” was published in 1940, and it included an entry dated July 28, 1938. Agate discussed his dislike of pageants which included amateur theatrical events. He was unable to suspend his disbelief because he knew the prosaic backgrounds of the performers. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

How can those be Hengist and Horsa when we know them to be young Mr Pepper and young Mr Salt, the obliging assistants from the local grocer’s ? How can yonder stout party hope to be Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough—“His Grace returned from the wars this morning and pleasured me twice in his top-boots”—when we know her to be the vicar’s sister and quite unpleasurable?

Agate included the quotation to illustrate the sensuality of Sarah Churchill which the amateur performer was unable to embody and project. Yet, it was unclear how Agate learned of the quotation. Later citations stated that the line was from a family tradition or an oral tradition.

Perhaps there is a closely held diary or letter containing the statement, but QI has not yet seen supporting evidence for this hypothesis, and the phrasing has been highly variable.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading His Grace Returned From the Wars This Morning and Pleasured Me Twice in His Top-Boots

Notes:

  1. 1940, Ego 4: Yet More of the Autobiography of James Agate by James Agate, Diary Date: July 28, 1938, Quote Page 13, George G. Harrap & Company, London. (Verified with scans)

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Clare Boothe Luce? Oscar Wilde? Walter Map? Marie Belloc Lowndes? James Agate? Leo Pavia? Walter Winchell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: For centuries moral philosophers have propounded a conventional viewpoint about the rewards and punishments delivered by a deity. Here is an example from the “Summa Theologica” by Saint Thomas Aquinas who lived during the 13th century: 1

For as punishment is to the evil act, so is reward to a good act. Now no evil deed is unpunished, by God the just judge. Therefore no good deed is unrewarded, and so every good deed merits some good.

A comically acerbic statement transforms this perspective. Here are two versions:

  • Every good deed brings its own punishment.
  • No good deed goes unpunished.

These words are often attributed to playwright and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce and to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Clare Boothe Luce did receive credit for the saying by 1949, but the attribution was weak because the phrase had been circulating for multiple years before that date. Also, the saying was implausibly assigned in 1972 to Oscar Wilde who had died in 1900. Details are given further below.

Courtier Walter Map wrote “De Nugis Curialium” (“Courtiers’ Trifles”) in the 12th century. The Medieval Latin text was translated into English and published by an Oxford University scholar in 1923. Map described the actions of Eudo who was a rapacious adherent of an inverted morality. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

He put the worst of men to command the bad, he gave additional authority and power to those who were wickedest in their attacks on the innocent, and promoted over all others those to whom pity was unknown. He spared none of his band who inclined to spare any, left no good deed unpunished, no bad one unrewarded; and when he could find no rival and no rebel on earth, like Capaneus, he challenged opposition from heaven. He spoiled churchyards, violated churches, and desisted not either for fear of the living or respect for the dead…

The passage above contained a match for the saying under examination, but it was not really in proverbial form. It was a remark about one person or about a class of wicked people instead of a general adage.

In August 1927 the prominent author Marie Belloc Lowndes published a short story in “The Windsor Magazine” titled “A Breaker of Hearts” which included an interesting precursor statement. Lowndes referred to “kindness” which is one type of “good deed”: 3

“Are you doing a wise thing, Laura? It’s dangerous work, you know, bringing about a marriage between middle-aged people. The couple don’t always thank you afterwards.”

“Kindness,” said the Duchess thoughtfully, “often brings its own punishment. But I don’t think it will in this case!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Notes:

  1. 1917, The “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Third Part, Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Fourth Number (QQ LXXXIV-Suppl. XXXIII), Chapter XIV: Of the Quality of Satisfaction, Quote Page 222,R. & T. Washbourne, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1983, De Nugis Curialium: Courtiers’ Trifles, Author: Walter Map, Edited and Translated by M. R. James, Revised by C. N. L. Brooke and R. A. B. Mynors, Section: Distinctio iv: The Fourth Distinction, Start Page 278, Quote Page 331, (Translation based on 1923 edition by E. Sidney Hartland with notes by Sir John Lloyd; 1983 edition brought together English text and Medieval Latin text), Published: Clarendon Press, Oxford, England. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 1927 August, The Windsor Magazine, A Breaker of Hearts by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, Start Page 297, Quote Page 308 and 309, Ward, Lock & Company, London. (Verified with scans at archive.org)