I Don’t Care Who Writes a Nation’s Laws . . . If I Can Write Its Economic Textbooks

Paul Samuelson? Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun? Percy Bysshe Shelley? Mary Shelley? Sylvia Nasar?

Question for Quote Investigator: The cultural impact of economic thought has been enormous. Apparently, a famous economist once said something like this:

I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws if I can write its economic textbooks.

Would you please help me to identify this economist and find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson published the perennially popular textbook “Economics” beginning in 1948. Twenty editions have appeared during subsequent decades.

In 1990 Samuelson wrote the foreword to “The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors”, and he employed the quotation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1990, The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors, Edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad, Section: Foreword by Paul A Samuelson, Date: October 1988, Quote Page ix, … Continue reading

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” It was a poet who said that, exercising occupational license. Some sage, it may have been I, declared in similar vein: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treaties—if I can write its economic textbooks.” The first lick is the privileged one, impinging on the beginner’s tabula rasa at its most impressionable state.

Paul Samuelson’s phrasing was humorously tentative, but QI believes that he deserves credit for the remark under examination. When Samuelson crafted his remark he was deliberately alluding to a family of previous remarks about the powerful cultural influence of music and poetry.

In 1704 Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun published “An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind”, and he attributed a pertinent remark about music to an anonymous wise man. This remark used the same template as Samuelson’s comment:[2]1704, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind: In a Letter to the Marquiss of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, … Continue reading

. . . a very wise man . . . believed if a man were permitted to make all the Ballads, he need not care who should make the Laws of a Nation. And we find that most of the antient Legislators thought they could not well reform the manners of any City without the help of a Lyric, and sometimes of a Dramatic Poet.

Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

References

References
1 1990, The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors, Edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad, Section: Foreword by Paul A Samuelson, Date: October 1988, Quote Page ix, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
2 1704, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind: In a Letter to the Marquiss of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, from London the 1st of December, 1703, Author: Andrew Fletcher, Quote Page 10, Printed in the Year 1704 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link

Seek Happiness in Tranquility and Avoid Ambition

Mary Shelley? Victor Frankenstein? Scott Galloway? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: English author Mary Shelley penned the famous science fiction novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”. The overweening ambition of the main character, scientist Victor Frankenstein, caused him to create a monster. He learned bitterly that his passion for success and fame was destructive. Apparently, his dying words were a powerful injunction to avoid ambition. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein” in 1818. Victor Frankenstein’s final conversation occurs with Robert Walton, the captain of a ship which is on a dangerous journey toward the North Pole. Crewmembers of the ship discover an exhausted and gaunt Victor floating on a block of ice. After Victor partially recovers his health he proceeds to tell the captain his tragic saga. Below are Victor’s last words before expiring. This passage uses the British spelling: “tranquillity”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1818, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 3 of 3, Chapter 7, Quote Page 177, Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, London. (Google … Continue reading

“The forms of the beloved dead flit before me, and I hasten to their arms. Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.”

Oddly, Victor’s final two sentences seem to undercut the admonition to avoid ambition. Victor’s ambivalence reflects the complexity of his character. Mary Shelley did not wish to enforce a single meaning for her sophisticated fable. The framing tale of Captain Robert Walton’s perilous voyage illustrates a counterpoint to Victor’s story. Walton decides to halt his expedition. Thus, Walton selects safety over ambition.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Seek Happiness in Tranquility and Avoid Ambition

References

References
1 1818, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 3 of 3, Chapter 7, Quote Page 177, Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Nothing Contributes So Much To Tranquillize the Mind As a Steady Purpose,—a Point On Which the Soul May Fix Its Intellectual Eye

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Robert Walton? Victor Frankenstein? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Finding a goal or purpose to strive for in life is wonderfully helpful; uncertainty and anxiety are replaced by mental tranquility. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who authored the groundbreaking science fiction novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” once made this point. Would you please help me to find citation?

Quote Investigator: Shelley’s “Frankenstein” begins with the text of a letter from the explorer Robert Walton to his sister. The fictional Walton is leading an expedition toward the North Pole while hoping to make a major discovery such as a navigable passage connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1818, Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 1 of 3, Letter 1, To: Mrs. Saville, England, Location: St. Petersburgh, Date: Dec. 11, 17–, Start Page 1, … Continue reading

These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose,—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole.

The 1818 edition employed the spelling “tranquillize”. Variant spellings include: tranquillise, tranquilize, and tranquilise.

Walton’s crew discover a man on a sledge who is nearly dead. The man is nursed back to health, and Shelley switches the narration of the novel. The rescued man is the ill-fated scientist Victor Frankenstein, and he recounts the rest of the tale.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing Contributes So Much To Tranquillize the Mind As a Steady Purpose,—a Point On Which the Soul May Fix Its Intellectual Eye

References

References
1 1818, Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 1 of 3, Letter 1, To: Mrs. Saville, England, Location: St. Petersburgh, Date: Dec. 11, 17–, Start Page 1, Quote Page 4, Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Do Not Believe in Ghosts Because I Have Seen Too Many of Them

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Don Marquis? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While perusing the book “Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time” I came across an entertaining topic for Halloween in the following entry about a famous poet:[1] 2010, Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time, Compiled by Rosemarie Jarski, Quote Page 348, Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California. (Google Books Preview)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?” “No, ma’am,” he replied, “I’ve seen too many.” Lucy Finn

Did Coleridge really make this remark?

Quote Investigator: Yes, there is good evidence that he did make a comment of this type. The context helps to explain what he was trying to communicate.

Coleridge died in 1834, and more than sixty years later in 1895 excerpts from his unpublished notebooks were printed in the work “Anima Poetae”. An entry dated May 12, 1805 discussed an extraordinary episode during which Coleridge saw an apparition. He had been engaged in a long conversation with a companion who said goodbye and retired. Coleridge began to doze for five minutes while sitting in a red armchair. He awoke suddenly and perceived that his companion who had left was somehow still present. He was startled but started to doze again. Awakening he saw the same spectral figure:[2]1895, Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Entry Title: Illusion, Entry Date: May 12, 1805, Start Page 122, Quote Page 123, … Continue reading

The appearance was very nearly that of a person seen through thin smoke distinct indeed, but yet a sort of distinct shape and color, with a diminished sense of substantiality — like a face in a clear stream.

Coleridge’s skepticism about his own perceptions led him to record information about these mental excursions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Often and often I have had similar experiences, and, therefore, resolved to write down the particulars whenever any new instance should occur, as a weapon against superstition, and an explanation of ghosts — Banquo in “Macbeth” the very same thing. I once told a lady the reason why I did not believe in the existence of ghosts, etc., was that I had seen too many of them myself.

In the passage above Coleridge referred to Lord Banquo who was a character in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”; during the course of the drama Banquo was murdered by Lord Macbeth and reappeared as a ghost.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Do Not Believe in Ghosts Because I Have Seen Too Many of Them

References

References
1 2010, Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time, Compiled by Rosemarie Jarski, Quote Page 348, Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California. (Google Books Preview)
2 1895, Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Entry Title: Illusion, Entry Date: May 12, 1805, Start Page 122, Quote Page 123, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link
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