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