Mark Twain? James Montgomery Flagg? William Dean Howells?
Dear Quote Investigator: When I discovered your blog I knew just the right word to describe it: Quotesmanship. That word was used in the New York Times in 1980 to describe the desire to determine and use correct attributions for quotations [NYQM]. The author of the Quotesmanship article was proud of his ability to properly give credit for quotations, but there was one saying attributed to Mark Twain that confounded him:
And nowhere to be found (by me, at least) is the dandy one that goes: “I would rather go to bed with Lillian Russell stark naked than with Ulysses S. Grant in full military regalia.”
I doubt you will be able to find these words in the corpus of Mark Twain either, but maybe you will be able to trace it to someone else. Could you give it a try?
Quote Investigator: This quote is rather risqué for the time period of Mark Twain. Nevertheless, QI will attempt to discover something for you.
Lillian Russell was one of the most famous actresses and singers of the late 19th century. But the evidence located by QI indicates that the saying initially referred to another glamorous lady of the stage named Adelina Patti. She was an operatic superstar in the 19th century and Twain reportedly attended at least one of her performances.
Remarkably, the private notebooks of Mark Twain contain a passage about Patti written between 1889 and 1890 that is a variant of the quotation under investigation. In addition, an autobiography by the prominent illustrator James Montgomery Flagg who knew Twain personally includes an anecdote in which Twain is overheard telling the quip to a companion while attending an opera performance by the selfsame Adelina Patti.