Conspiracy: The Pursuance of Policies Which They Dare Not Admit in Public

Mark Twain? Ossip Gabrilowitsch? Clara Clemens? Apocryphal?

clemens11Dear Quote Investigator: I’m conducting a research check on a television script containing a definition for the term “conspiracy” credited to Mark Twain. The definition notes that the conspiring participants “dare not admit in public” the secret agreement. Are you familiar with this quotation? Is the attribution to Twain accurate?

Quote Investigator: The ascription of this conspiracy quotation to Mark Twain is incorrect. Instead, Twain’s son-in-law, a prominent musician named Ossip Gabrilowitsch, probably crafted the quotation.

In 1909 Twain’s daughter Clara Clemens married Gabrilowitsch, a concert pianist who became the director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He died in 1936, and she published a biographical work titled “My Husband, Gabrilowitsch” in 1938. Clara Clemens included an excerpt from a letter written by Gabrilowitsch who believed that local musicians in Detroit were not being evaluated and hired in an equitable manner by the Symphony Society. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Do you mean to infer that a man from New York or Boston, all things being equal, should have the preference over the Detroit man and should even receive a larger fee? Neither you nor the Board of Directors would be willing to own up to such a policy. Why, it would amount practically to a conspiracy (for a conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public).

Since the passage above was presented as text from a Gabrilowitsch letter he was the most likely author of the quotation in boldface; however, it remains conceivable that Clara Clemens added the parenthetical elaboration; thus, she was the creator of the statement. Whichever possibility was true, one may still conclude that Mark Twain was not the coiner.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1938, My Husband, Gabrilowitsch by Clara Clemens, Quote Page 147, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans; great thanks to Barbara Schmidt )