Groucho Marx? Lord Palmerston? Old Bishop? Söndags-Nisse? Robert Lee Bullard? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: A famous person lying on their deathbed overheard distraught visitors discussing mortality. The stricken but still lively individual sat bolt upright and declared:
Die? That’s the last thing I’ll do.
This humorously redundant statement has been attributed to U.S. comedian Groucho Marx and U.K. statesman Lord Palmerston. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The phrasing of this quip has evolved over time. Here is a sampling with dates:
1866 Jun 28: Dying was the last thing a man should think about.
1867 Mar 01: As for my dying, that is the last thing I shall do.
1883 May 17: Die, my dear doctor? That’s the last thing I think of doing.
1886 May 22: Die, my dear doctor! That’s the last thing I shall do.
1901 Mar 25: Die? That’s the last thing I’ll do.
1925 Jan 18: Die . . . That is the last thing I intend to do.
1933 Oct 12: The last thing that I intend to do, brethren, is to die.
Lord Palmerston (Henry John Temple) died on October 18, 1865. The quip was attributed to him by March 1, 1867. The context was his retirement and not his deathbed. Lord Palmerston is the leading candidate for crafter of this quip based on current data.
There is one complication. A variant joke was ascribed to an “old Bishop” by June 28, 1866. This date was after Palmerston’s death but before he received credit. Hence, it is possible that an existing anonymous joke was simple reassigned to Palmerston posthumously.
Groucho Marx was born in 1890 and died in 1977. The joke was ascribed to him by 2008. This is very weak evidence, and QI believes the attribution to Groucho is spurious.
Below are selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Die, My Dear Doctor! That’s the Last Thing I Shall Do
Marcel Proust? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Lord Palmerston? Duke of Wellington? Japanese Proverb? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The difference between demonstrating bravery and cowardice can be surprisingly small. Perseverance under extreme duress can lead to success. Here are three instances from a family of sayings about heroism and tenacity:
- A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.
- Victory is on the side that can hold out a quarter of an hour longer than the other.
- The conquering soldier is not braver than the soldiers of other countries, but he is brave ten minutes longer.
This saying has been attributed to the transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and the British military leader Arthur Wellesley. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the May 1878 issue of a London periodical called the “Temple Bar”. An unnamed author penned a statement above bravery which was prefaced with a remark about success in the sport of fencing. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
If you can hit a man two inches farther than he can hit you, you are, in the truthful language of the “Fancy,” his better man physically. ‘Tis the same morally: all men are brave, but if one man is brave two minutes longer than the other he has a decided advantage.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading A Hero Is No Braver Than an Ordinary Person, But the Hero Is Brave Five Minutes Longer
Lord Palmerston? George Ward Nichols? John Moncure? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Describing a counterfactual world typically requires a comically twisted statement:
What would have happened if what did happen had not happened?
These words have been attributed to British statesman Lord Palmerston, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: In 1850 Lord Palmerston delivered a speech in the House of Commons in London. The original phrasing of the expression differed a bit from the modern version given by the questioner. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
We have been told, however, that if it had not been for the war in Lombardy, the indispensable interference of Russia in Hungary, would not have taken place. What might have happened, if that which did happen, had not happened, I cannot undertake to say. (Hear, and laughter.)
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading What Might Have Happened, If That Which Did Happen, Had Not Happened, I Cannot Undertake To Say
Lord Palmerston? George Peacocke? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is an anecdote about a fiendishly complex diplomatic agreement. Negotiating, signing, and comprehending the pact had sent one person to the grave, sent a second to a lunatic asylum, and left a third with memory loss. Are you familiar with this tale?
Quote Investigator: This story is based on a remark ascribed to British statesman Lord Palmerston who died in 1865 about the intricate Schleswig-Holstein Question.
The earliest match located by QI appeared in an 1873 Italian book about political and military events in 1866 titled “Un Po’ Più Di Luce Sugli Eventi Politici E Militari Dell’ Anno 1866” by Alfonso La Marmora. Here is an Italian passage followed by an English translation. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
La questione danese, o per meglio dire dello Schleswig-Holstein era talmente complicata e oscura che Lord Palmerston non essendo riuscito diplomaticamente a impedire quella guerra, soleva spiritosamente raccontare, che tre soli individui conoscevano a fondo quella imbrogliata controversia. Uno era il principe Alberto, che disgraziatamente era morto; il secondo un uomo di Stato danese, che era impazzito; il terzo lui, Lord Palmerston, che l’aveva dimenticata.
The Danish question, or better put that of Schleswig-Holstein, was so utterly complicated and obscure that Lord Palmerston, not having been successful in preventing that war through diplomacy, used to quip that only three individuals knew the cause of the tangled dispute. One was Prince Albert, who unfortunately was dead; the second was a Danish official who had gone mad; and the third was he himself, Lord Palmerston, who had forgotten it.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Only Three People Understood It: The Prince Consort Who is Dead, a German Professor Who Has Gone Mad, and I Who Have Forgotten All About It