Tell Me What Company You Keep, and I Will Tell You What You Are

Miguel de Cervantes? Don Quixote? Sancho Panza? Lord Chesterfield? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Joseph Hordern? Anonymous?

Don Quixote and Sancho PanzaDear Quote Investigator: If you are attempting to assess the character of an individual you can do it indirectly by identifying his or her friends and assessing their proclivities. Here are three versions of a pertinent saying:

  1. Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.
  2. Tell me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are.
  3. By the company you keep I can tell what life you lead.

Would you please explore the provenance of this family of expressions?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the influential Spanish novel “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes which appeared in two parts published in 1605 and 1615. The Spanish title was “Ingenioso Cavallero Don Qvixote de la Mancha” (“Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha”). The second part in 1615 included the following passage using non-standard spelling. The saying was spoken by Sancho Panza who was the faithful servant and squire of the main character Don Quixote. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

A qui encaxa bien el refran, dixo Sancho, de dime, con quien andas, dezirte he quien eres . . .

Here is a slightly longer passage from an English translation by Charles Jarvis published in 1749. The statement above is included in the rendering below. The phrase “your worship” corresponds to Don Quixote in this context: 2

Here, quoth Sancho, the proverb hits right, Tell me your company, and I will tell you what you are. If your worship keeps company with those who fast and watch, what wonder is it that you neither eat nor sleep while you are with them?

Miguel de Cervantes disclaimed credit for the saying by calling it proverbial; thus, it was already circulating in Spanish before 1615.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tell Me What Company You Keep, and I Will Tell You What You Are

Notes:

  1. 1615, Title: Ingenioso Cavallero Don Qvixote de la Mancha (Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha), Author: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Part: Segvnda Parte (Second Part), Capitulo 23 (Chapter 23), Quote on page 89 after and before unnumbered pages, Publication Data: Con privilegió, en Madrid, por Iuan de la Cuesta. (1905, Facsimile reprint by the Hispanic Society of America, New York) (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1749, The Life and Exploits of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Translated by Charles Jarvis, Volume 2, Second Edition, Quote Page 134 and 135, Printed for J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, London. (Google Books Full View) 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)

A Gentleman Is a Man Who Never Gives Offense Unintentionally

Oscar Wilde? Lord Chesterfield? John Wayne? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Books of etiquette once provided a definition of a gentleman that included the following assertion:

A gentleman never insults anyone intentionally.

The clever addition of a two-letter prefix humorously spun the definition:

A gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally.

This statement is often attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Would you please examine this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a London periodical called “The Saturday Review” in September 1905. This version used the phrase “gives offence” instead of “insults”. No attribution was provided, and the word “extant” signaled that the comical remark was already in circulation: 1

The best extant definition of a gentleman is “a man who never gives offence unintentionally”…

Oscar Wilde died in in 1900, and he was linked to the quip by 1929, but that was very late. QI has not yet found any substantive evidence that Wilde created or used this joke.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Gentleman Is a Man Who Never Gives Offense Unintentionally

Notes:

  1. 1905 September 2, The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, The Tripper Mind, Start Page 301, Quote Page 302, Column 1 and 2, Published at The Office of The Saturday Review, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

If You Want to Know What a Man’s Like, Look at How He Treats His Inferiors

J. K. Rowling? Lord Chesterfield? Sirius Black? Charles Bayard Miliken? M. C. B. Mason?

Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite quotation from the entire Harry Potter series was the brilliantly insightful remark spoken by the character Sirius Black:

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

Did the author originate this saying?

Quote Investigator: One theme in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling is the mistreatment of a class of servants called house elves. The term “inferiors” is used to refer to individuals who have a lower rank or status within a society. This group included house elves in Rowling’s fantasy universe.

In the book “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” the character Hermione Granger was unhappy with the treatment given to a house elf by Bartemius Crouch, a powerful official. Sirius Black concurred with Granger that Crouch’s actions revealed a character defect. Here is a longer excerpt in which Hermione Granger speaks of the dismissal of a house elf, and Black then addresses Ronald Weasley [GFSB]:

“Yes,” said Hermione in a heated voice, “he sacked her, just because she hadn’t stayed in her tent and let herself get trampled—”

“Hermione, will you give it a rest with the elf!” said Ron.

Sirius shook his head and said, “She’s got the measure of Crouch better than you have, Ron.  If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

The popularity of Rowling’s books provided wide-dissemination for this guideline about assessing character. But this general expression has a long history, and QI has located an example in 1910 that communicated the same idea using comparable language [CMRT]:

It is the way one treats his inferiors more than the way he treats his equals which reveals one’s real character.

—Rev. Charles Bayard Miliken, Methodist Episcopal, Chicago.

Below are additional selected citations on this theme in chronological order starting in the 1700s.

QI has also examined a related saying: You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. Skip to the end of this article for a comparison of these two sayings and/or click here to read the other article.

Continue reading If You Want to Know What a Man’s Like, Look at How He Treats His Inferiors