The Best Swordsman in the World Doesn’t Need To Fear the Second Best Swordsman

Mark Twain? David Weber? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving expert knowledge and abilities in a domain may require many years of hard work. Yet, expertise does not guarantee success. Here is a counterintuitive adage:

The best swordsman does not fear the second best. He fears the worst since there’s no telling what that idiot is going to do.

This statement has been attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain and the popular science fiction author David Weber. But I am having trouble locating a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1889 Mark Twain published “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. The book included an observation about the “best swordsman”, but the phrasing differed from the remark specified in the inquiry above. The following excerpt represents the thoughts of the book’s narrator. Bold face added by QI: 1

But don’t you know, there are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do: and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.

The viewpoint of the narrator of a novel may diverge from the author’s viewpoint; however, in this case, QI suspects that Twain would concur with the insight provided by the narrator.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Best Swordsman in the World Doesn’t Need To Fear the Second Best Swordsman

Notes:

  1. 1889 Copyright, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, Chapter 34: The Yankee and the King Sold as Slaves, Quote Page 330, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Comparison Is the Thief of Joy

Theodore Roosevelt? Mark Twain? C. S. Lewis? Dwight Edwards? John Powell? Ray Cummings? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Comparing your status to others often produces envy and unhappiness. Here are four instances from a family of pertinent adages:

  • Comparison is the thief of joy.
  • The thief of joy is comparison.
  • Comparison is the death of joy.
  • Comparison is the death of contentment.

Statesman Theodore Roosevelt, humorist Mark Twain, author C. S. Lewis, and religious figure Dwight Edwards have all been given credit for sayings in this family. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence supporting ascriptions to Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and C. S. Lewis. Tracing this family is difficult, and this article presents a snapshot of current research. The statements above are not semantically identical, but QI believes that this grouping is natural.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1989 book “Happiness Is an Inside Job” by John Powell. This instance referred to self-contentment and not joy. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Why can’t you be like that. ” “Why don’t you do as well as your brother?” “If you comb your hair down, people won’t notice your big forehead. You’ll look more presentable.”

And so most of us have been taught to compare ourselves with others. And all the professionals agree: Comparison is the death of true self-contentment.

The earliest match using “comparison” and “thief of joy” located by QI appeared in the 2003 religious book “Are You Following Jesus Or Just Fooling Around?!” by Dr. Ray Cummings. He discussed three thieves of joy. The first thief was bitterness; the second thief was complaining, and the third thief was comparison: 2

A third thief of joy is comparison. When Satan can’t make you bitter enough to complain, he will seek to lower your self-esteem and allow you to compare.

The 2004 religious book “Connect2God: Instant Messages from God to Teens” by Curt Cloninger included an exact match for the popular modern version of the saying. Cloninger disclaimed credit: 3

Somebody once said that comparison is the thief of joy. In other words, if you’re always comparing yourself to other people, then you’ll never be happy.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Comparison Is the Thief of Joy

Notes:

  1. 1989, Happiness Is an Inside Job by John Powell S.J., Chapter: My Assumption – Happiness is a natural condition, Quote Page 6, Tabor Publishing, Allen, Texas. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2003, Are You Following Jesus Or Just Fooling Around?! by Dr. Ray Cummings, Quote Page 81, Xulon Press: Salem Media Group, Camarillo, California. (Google Books Preview)
  3. 2004, Connect2God: Instant Messages from God to Teens by Curt Cloninger, Chapter: True Original, Start Page 12, Quote Page 13, Honor Books, An Imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Verified with scans)

It’s Easier To Fool People Than To Convince Them That They’ve Been Fooled

Mark Twain? Baltasar Gracian? John Maynard Keynes? Norman Angell? Joreth? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: An energetic liar can confuse, mislead, and deceive people. Yet, in many cases, that same liar is unable to reverse the deception. Hoodwinked people embrace their misperceptions. Here is a pertinent adage:

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Mark Twain has received credit for this statement, but I have been unable to find a citation, and I have become skeptical. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) authored this remark. The earliest close match known to QI appeared in a tweet from @Joreth on January 10, 2011. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It’s easier to fool ppl than to convince them that they’ve been fooled” ~Mark Twain #skeptic #atheist #skepticism

Thematically related statements have a long history, and Twain did express similar sentiments in 1906 as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Easier To Fool People Than To Convince Them That They’ve Been Fooled

Notes:

  1. Tweet, From: Joreth @Joreth, Time: 7:47 AM, Date: January 10, 2011, Text: It’s easier to fool ppl than… (Accessed on twitter.com on December 23, 2020) link

God In Creating Man, Somewhat Overestimated His Ability

Oscar Wilde? Francis Douglas? 11th Marquess of Queensberry? ‎Percy Colson? Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Book of Genesis describes the creation of the world and the formation of Adam and Eve. The actions of this couple in the Garden of Eden quickly revealed behavioral defects. A sardonic commentator has suggested that God overestimated his capabilities when he synthesized humankind.

This remark is usually attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wide. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and the earliest match known to QI occurred decades later in the 1940 book “Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas” by Francis Douglas, 11th Marquess of Queensberry in collaboration with ‎Percy Colson. The following passage mixes commentary about Wilde together with quotations attributed to him. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Art and religion had much in common, he thought; both give an enhanced sense of living. St. Francis of Assisi, and Jeanne d’Arc were artists in their way, and he loved tradition. “Never try to pull down public monuments such as the Albert Memorial and the Church,” he said. “You are sure to be damaged by the falling masonry.”

But the Creator as an artist did not meet with his whole-hearted admiration. “I sometimes think that God in creating man, somewhat over-estimated his ability,” he remarked to a friend.

The friend was unidentified, and the long delay between 1900 and 1940 reduced the evidentiary value of this citation. Yet, QI is unaware of any other candidate creator with substantive support.

Francis Douglas was the nephew of Lord Alfred Douglas who was the lover and repudiator of Wilde. In addition, Francis Douglas was the grandchild of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry who was Wilde’s nemesis. Interestingly, the book is sympathetic to Wilde.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading God In Creating Man, Somewhat Overestimated His Ability

Notes:

  1. 1949, Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas by The Marquess of Queensberry (Francis Douglas) in collaboration with ‎Percy Colson, Chapter 2: Oscar Wilde’s Parentage and Youth, Quote Page 20, Hutchinson & Company, London. (Verified with scans)

The Trouble Ain’t That There Is Too Many Fools, But That the Lightning Ain’t Distributed Right

Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Caroline Thomas Harnsberger? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain once spoke about the number of fools in the world. He did not believe that there were too many fools, but he did suggest that lightning strikes were not ideally distributed. Would you please help me to find a citation for this quip which presents the precise phrasing employed by Twain?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a slim volume titled “More Maxims of Mark” containing quotations ascribed to Twain which was privately printed as a limited edition of fifty copies in November 1927 by Merle Johnson who was a rare book collector. Johnson published the first careful bibliography of Twain’s works in 1910 shortly after the writer’s death. Twain scholars believe that the sayings compiled by Johnson in this book are genuine.

The Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University holds copy 14 of 50, and a friend of QI’s was able to access it. The adage appears on page 13. Below is the saying together with the two preceding items. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

TO BE GOOD IS NOBLE, BUT TO SHOW OTHERS HOW TO BE GOOD IS NOBLER, AND NO TROUBLE.

THE TIME TO BEGIN WRITING AN ARTICLE IS WHEN YOU HAVE FINISHED IT TO YOUR SATISFACTION.

THE TROUBLE AIN’T THAT THERE IS TOO MANY FOOLS, BUT THAT THE LIGHTNING AIN’T DISTRIBUTED RIGHT.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Trouble Ain’t That There Is Too Many Fools, But That the Lightning Ain’t Distributed Right

Notes:

  1. 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 13, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified via image; thanks to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike)

I Destroy My Enemies When I Make Them My Friends

Abraham Lincoln? Emperor Sigismund? Martin Luther King? Loretta Young? Mark Twain? Cardinal Richelieu? Robert Jones Burdette? John Wooden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The leader of a victorious group decided to treat the vanquished people with compassion. Critics of the leader were unhappy because they believed that the enemies deserved destruction. Here are three versions of the response:

  • The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
  • I will slay my enemies by making them my friends.
  • The only safe and sure way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.

This saying has been attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match for this anecdote located by QI appeared in a Bellows Falls, Vermont newspaper in April 1818. The word “reproaching” should have been “reproached” in the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Emperor Sigismund was reproaching for rewarding instead destroying his enemies, as by that means he gave them an opportunity to injure him. “What!” said the noble minded monarch, “do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends.”

Sigismund died in 1437, and the long delay before this tale appeared reduces its credibility. A similar anecdote was told by the 1940s about Abraham Lincoln who died in 1865. The delay suggests that this story was also apocryphal.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Destroy My Enemies When I Make Them My Friends

Notes:

  1. 1818 April 6, Vermont Intelligencer, Anecdotes, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Bellows Falls, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)

Nothing Is Certain, Except Death and Taxes

Benjamin Franklin? Mark Twain? Christopher Bullock? Edward Ward? Daniel Defoe? Joseph Reed? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The due date of U.S. income taxes has been moved from April 2020 to July 2020 because of the pandemic. Thus, the payment of taxes has been delayed, but payment remains inevitable. Here are four versions of a pertinent saying:

  • Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.
  • Nothing stands fixed, but death and taxes.
  • Nothing can be depended on but taxes and death.
  • It’s impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.

The U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin and the humorist Mark Twain have received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin did employ this saying within a letter dated November 13, 1789 which he wrote to the French physicist Jean Baptiste Le Roy. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Many years before Franklin’s usage, the expression appeared in a 1716 farce called “The Cobler of Preston” by Christopher Bullock. The word “cobbler” was spelled “cobler”, and the word “lie” was spelled “lye” within the play. The quip was spoken by a character named Toby Guzzle who was described as “a drunken Cobler”. Here is an excerpt from the fourth edition of the play published in 1723: 2

You lye, you are not sure; for I say, Woman, ’tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes—therefore hold your Tongue, or you shall both be soundly whipt . . .

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing Is Certain, Except Death and Taxes

Notes:

  1. 1817, The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, Published from the Originals by His Grandson William Temple Franklin, Second Edition, Volume 1 of 2, Letter Title: On the Affairs of France, Letter Date: November 13, 1789, Letter From: Benjamin Franklin, Letter To: Jean Baptiste Le Roy, Start Page 265, Quote Page 266, Printed for Henry Colburn, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1723, The Cobler of Preston and the Adventures of Half an Hour, As it is acted at the Theatre-Royal in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, Written by Mr. Christopher Bullock, The Fourth Edition, Character Speaking: Toby Guzzle (a drunken Cobler), Quote Page 13, Printed for T. Corbett, and Sold by Mr. Graves, London. (A facsimile published in 1969 by Cornmarket Press from the copy in the Birmingham Shakespeare Library, London) (Verified with scans)

Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

Mark Twain? John Wesley? John M. Bartholomew? Arthur Twining Hadley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Lengthy orations on spiritual topics are unlikely to change the views of resistant audience members. Here are three versions of a pertinent adage:

  • Few sinners are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon.
  • Few souls are saved after the first half-hour of a sermon.
  • No souls saved after the first 15 minutes.

This saying has been credited to humorist Mark Twain and 18th-century English evangelist John Wesley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in 1864 within “The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association”. No attribution was specified, and the crucial phrase was placed between quotation marks signaling that it was already in circulation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The correct view of this subject is contained in the statement, that there should be no indecent haste in disposing of topics so dignified as those of the pulpit, but “few souls are saved after the first half-hour.”

The first known ascriptions to John Wesley and Mark Twain occurred many years after their respective deaths. Thus, the evidence supporting these ascriptions is weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

Notes:

  1. 1864 May, The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association, Volume 5, Number 5, Stray Hints Too Parishes, Start Page 215, Quote Page 219, American Unitarian Association, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

There Are Two Types of Speakers: Those Who Are Nervous and Those Who Are Liars

Mark Twain? Richard Branson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following comical remark reassures neophyte speakers that their anxious feelings are universal:

There are only two types of speakers: (1) the nervous (2) the liars.

This quip is usually attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain, but I cannot find a solid citation, and I have become skeptical. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find this statement in the writings, dictations, or speeches of Mark Twain. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2 The ascription to Mark Twain is currently unsupported.

Twain died in 1910, and the earliest close match located by QI appeared many years later in a posting to the Usenet newsgroup alt.business.seminars in 1998, Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 3

Some of the world’s most famous presenters have freely admitted to nervousness and stage fright. Mark Twain said it best, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Are Two Types of Speakers: Those Who Are Nervous and Those Who Are Liars

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched March 5, 2020) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1998 January 13, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.business.seminars, From: Pres…@LJLSeminars.com, Subject: Overcoming Speaking Anxiety. (Google Groups Search; Accessed March 4, 2020) link

Courage Is Resistance To Fear, Mastery of Fear—Not Absence of Fear

Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I encountered an insightful quotation about courage attributed to Mark Twain that I had not seen before:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, and not the absence of fear.

Is this a genuine Twain quotation? Where did it appear?

Quote Investigator: In December 1893 Mark Twain began to serialize the novel “Pudd’nhead Wilson” in “The Century Magazine”. 1 In 1894 he published the full work under the title “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy Those Extraordinary Twins”. The twelfth chapter began with the following lengthy epigraph. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word. Consider the flea!—incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage.

Whether you are asleep or awake he will attack you, caring nothing for the fact that in bulk and strength you are to him as are the massed armies of the earth to a sucking child; he lives both day and night and all days and nights in the very lap of peril and the immediate presence of death, and yet is no more afraid than is the man who walks the streets of a city that was threatened by an earthquake ten centuries before.

When we speak of Clive, Nelson, and Putnam as men who “didn’t know what fear was,” we ought always to add the flea—and put him at the head of the procession.

—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Courage Is Resistance To Fear, Mastery of Fear—Not Absence of Fear

Notes:

  1. 1894 March, The Century Magazine, Volume 47, Number 5, (Serialization begun in December 1893; target quotation appeared in March 1894), Section: Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, (epigraph at beginning of chapter 12), Quote Page 772, The Century Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1894, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson; And the Comedy Those Extraordinary Twins by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, (Epigraph at beginning of chapter 12), Quote Page 155, American Publishing Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link