Tag Archives: Richard Branson

Riches Are Like Muck Which Stinks in a Heap But Spread Abroad Makes the Earth Fruitful

Richard Branson? Thornton Wilder? Francis Bacon? Mr. Bettenham? King James I of England? Henry Edmundson? Richard Flecknoe? Clint Murchison? Anonymous?

fertilizer10Dear Quote Investigator: The famous British entrepreneur Richard Branson employed an extraordinary simile. He said that “money is like manure”, and elaborated on the thought as follows: 1

If you let money pile up, it starts to stink. But if you spread it around then it can do a lot of good.

Branson also credited the prominent playwright Thornton Wilder with a remark that was thematically similar. Would you please explore the history of this figurative language?

Quote Investigator: This family of expressions has a very long history that stretches back into the 1600s. The English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon wrote a piece discussing statecraft titled “Of Seditions and Troubles” that was published in his landmark collection of essays in 1625. Bacon wrote a precursor to the expression under examination that used the word “muck” instead of “manure”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Above all things, good Policie is to be used, that the Treasure and Moneyes, in a State, be not gathered into few Hands. For otherwise, a State may have a great Stock, and yet starve. And Money is like Muck, not good except it be spread. This is done, chiefly, by suppressing, or at the least, keeping a strait Hand, upon the Devouring Trades of Usurie, Ingrossing, great Pasturages, and the like.

Bacon presented the core simile, but he did not extend the analogy to the olfactory organ. Yet, in 1625 Bacon also released a collection of “Apophthegmes New and Old” that included a longer expression with the word “stench” that was attributed to someone named “Mr. Bettenham”: 3

Mr. Bettenham vsed to say; That Riches were like Mucke: When it lay, vpon an heape, it gaue but a stench, and ill odour; but when it was spread vpon the ground, then it was cause of much fruit.

The above simile matched the notion presented by Richard Branson recently. Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located the saying. Popik’s entry on this topic is located on his website.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Website: Richard Branson blog at Virgin.com, Article title: Why money is like manure, Article author: Richard Branson, Date on website: February 13, 2014, Website description: Thoughts of businessman Richard Branson who founded the Virgin Group. (Accessed virgin.com on February 5, 2016) link
  2. 1625, Title: The Essayes or Counsels, Ciuill and Morall, of Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, Author: Francis Bacon, Quote Page 85, Printed by Iohn Haviland for Hanna Barret, London. (Early English Books Online 2)
  3. 1625, Title: Apophthegmes New and Old, Collected by the Right Honourable, Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, Author: Francis Bacon, Quote Page 273, Printed by J. Haviland for Hanna Barret, and Richard Whittaker, and are to be sold at the Kings head in Pauls Chuch-yard, London. (Early English Books Online)

To Fulfill a Dream, To Be Allowed to Sweat over Lovely Labor, To Be Given the Chance To Create, Is the Meat and Potatoes of Life. The Money Is the Gravy

Bette Davis? Richard Branson? Apocryphal?

voyager08Dear Quote Investigator: In 2014 Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, wrote an essay discussing some of his favorite quotations. One motivational remark about creating and fulfilling a dream was attributed to the Hollywood star Bette Davis. 1 Are you familiar with this quotation? Would you please tell me where it is was published?

Quote Investigator: Some fortunate individuals in our society acquire great wealth during youth or middle age. A sybaritic life of indolence and decadence must be a temptation for a large number of pecunious people. Yet, many continue to work hard for decades.

The acclaimed actress Bette Davis was highly-paid during her long career. The following illuminating passage about her desires appeared in her 1962 autobiography titled “The Lonely Life”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

To survive and to prosper doing what one wants is the dreamiest of lives. To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lovely labor, to be given the chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. As everyone else, I love to dunk my crust in it. But alone, it is not a diet designed to keep body and soul together.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Website: Virgin Group, Article title: My three favourite quotes on imagination, Article author: Richard Branson, Date on website: October 13, 2014, Website description: Information about the Virgin Group and postings by the founder Richard Branson, (Accessed virgin.com on February 11, 2015) link
  2. 1962, The Lonely Life: An Autobiography by Bette Davis, Chapter 13, Quote Page 190, Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)

You Can’t Depend On Your Eyes When Your Imagination Is Out of Focus

Mark Twain? Richard Branson? Apocryphal?


Dear Quote Investigator: The billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has argued that imagination provides hope, drive, and inspiration. He believes it should be “intertwined in daily life”; to support this thought he referred to a quotation attributed to Mark Twain:

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

Oddly, I have seen another very similar expression ascribed to the famed humorist:

You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.

There are so many fake Twainisms that I do not know what to think. Would you please determine if either of these statements is from the pen of the master?

Quote Investigator: Both quotations were written by Mark Twain.

In 1889 Twain published the time-travel fantasy “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. In the following passage a character in the novel was attempting to determine if a large armed group was planning an attack. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

This sound thickened and approached—from toward the north. Presently I heard it at my own level—the ridge-top of the opposite embankment, a hundred feet or more away. Then I seemed to see a row of black dots appear along that ridge—human heads?

I couldn’t tell; it mightn’t be anything at all; you can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. However, the question was soon settled. I heard that metallic noise descending into the great ditch. It augmented fast, it spread all along, and it unmistakably furnished me this fact: an armed host was taking up its quarters in the ditch.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1889, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, Quote Page 421 and 422, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link