The Curate’s Egg: Parts of It Are Excellent

Punch Magazine? Judy Magazine? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous one-panel comic shows a lowly curate who is visiting the house of a powerful bishop for breakfast. The bishop notices that the curate has unfortunately been served a spoiled egg, and the curate’s response is overly polite and deferential. Here are two versions:

  • My lord, really, some parts of it are very good.
  • My lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent.

A spoiled egg is typically thrown away and not eaten. It is viewed as entirely bad. Nevertheless, the meaning of the term “curate’s egg” has shifted over time. It is used figuratively to refer to something which has a mixture of positive and negative attributes. It is both good and bad. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This joke is usually traced to a cartoon published in the humor magazine “Punch” on November 9, 1895, and that cartoon is shown further below; however, the origin can actually be traced to an earlier time.

A precursor anecdote without a cartoon illustration appeared in “The Academy” journal in 1875. The creator of the story was unidentified, and the punchline was a bit different. Also, it did not include the claim that parts of the egg were good. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Without pledging our credence, we could afford a grin to the story of the “young Levite” who at a bishop’s breakfast-table, was so ‘umble as to decline the replacement of a bad egg by a good one with a “No thank you, my Lord, it’s good enough for me;” . . .

On May 22, 1895 “Judy: The London Serio-Comic Journal” published a cartoon with a bishop and curate. This is the first close match located by QI: 2

SCENE—BISHOP’S BREAKFAST TABLE.
Bishop (to timid Curate on a visit). DEAR ME, I’M AFRAID YOUR EGG’S NOT GOOD!
Timid Curate. OH, YES, MY LORD, REALLY-ER-SOME PARTS OF IT ARE VERY GOOD.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Curate’s Egg: Parts of It Are Excellent

Notes:

  1. 1875 July 26, The Academy, Book Review of: “Our Bishops and Deans” by the Rev. F. Arnold (Late of Christ Church Oxford), Start Page 651, Quote Page 652, Column 2, Robert Scott Walker, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1895 May 22, Judy: The London Serio-Comic Journal, Scene-Bishop’s Breakfast Table (Single-panel comic showing a Bishop and Curate at a breakfast table), Quote Page 245, London, England. (Gale 19th Century UK Periodicals)

What Is Matter?—Never Mind. What Is Mind?—No Matter

Creator: “Punch”, London humor magazine

Context: On July 14, 1855 “Punch” published the following brief item containing the quotation: 1

A SHORT CUT TO METAPHYSICS.
What is Matter?—Never mind.
What is Mind?—No matter.

Related Article: Those Who Mind Don’t Matter, and Those Who Matter Don’t Mind

Image Notes: Depiction of brain from geralt at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1855 July 14, Punch, Or the London Charivari, (Filler item), Quote Page 19, Column 2, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link

Always Go To Other People’s Funerals — Otherwise, They Won’t Come To Yours

Yogi Berra? J. F. Shaw Kennedy? Charles Lee? Punch Magazine? Clarence Day? Anonymous?

weath07Dear Quote Investigator: A comical remark about funeral attendance has been attributed to the baseball great Yogi Berra:

Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.

A simple interpretation seems to require ghosts to attend a future funeral. Would you please trace this joke? Is it a genuine Yogiism?

Quote Investigator: In 1987 William Safire who was the language columnist of “The New York Times” asked Yogi Berra about this statement, and Berra denied that he ever made it. 1 Indeed, the jest was circulating before Berra was born.

The earliest evidence known to QI was printed in a novel titled “The Youth of the Period” by J. F. Shaw Kennedy in 1876. The publisher was based in London. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Old John Nobbs was one of those present. Going to funerals was quite a mania of his, and he attended every funeral he could for twelve miles round Ledbury.

“Confound it!” John would say, “if I don’t attend other people’s funerals they won’t come to mine.”

Thanks to magnificent researcher Stephen Goranson who located the above citation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Always Go To Other People’s Funerals — Otherwise, They Won’t Come To Yours

Notes:

  1. 1987 February 15, New York Times, Mr. Bonaprop by William Safire, Start Page SM8, Quote Page SM10, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1876, The Youth of the Period by J. F. Shaw Kennedy (James Frederick Shaw Kennedy), Chapter 19: True Love, Quote Page 232, Published by Samuel Tinsley, London. (Google Books Full View) link