George Bernard Shaw? Blanche Patch? Archibald Henderson? Bennett Cerf? Walter Winchell? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: A visitor to the home of a famous wit expected to find vases filled with beautiful cut flowers, but there were none. The wit explained the absence by making a comically grotesque comparison between cut flowers and decapitated people. Would you please help me to identify the humorist and find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1899 within the London journal “The Garden” which published a short item crediting Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw with the joke. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1899 May 20, The Garden: Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in All Its Branches, Volume 55, Number 1435, The New Style, Quote Page 358, Column 1, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link
Mr. G. Bernard Shaw on flowers is—well, he is Mr. G. Bernard Shaw, just as he is on the drama and things generally. As thus: “A well-balanced mind has no favourites. People who have a favourite flower generally cut off its head and stick it into a button-hole or a vase. I wonder they do not do the same to their favourite children. It is a crime to pluck a flower. I dislike formal gardens. At any given moment two thirds of its blossoms are dead.
The journal did not specify the source of this tale. Shaw received credit for variations of this quip in later years.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.