Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

Leonardo da Vinci? Clare Boothe Luce? Leonard Thiessen? Elizabeth Hillyer? William Gaddis? Eleanor All? Apple Computer Company? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following aphorism has often been attributed to the brilliant Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci:

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Strangely, I have been unable to find any solid source for this ascription. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have been unable to locate this adage in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. The earliest attribution to da Vinci located by QI appeared in 2000. Hence, there is no substantive evidence supporting the connection at this time. Perhaps future exploration will uncover a citation in Italian.

The earliest strong match found by QI employed a different wording to communicate a comparable idea. Clare Boothe Luce was a successful playwright who became one of the first female U.S. Ambassadors. In 1931 she published a novel titled “Stuffed Shirts” which contained the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[1] 1931, Stuffed Shirts by Clare Boothe Brokaw (Clare Boothe Luce), Chapter 17: “Snobs, New Style”, Quote Page 239, Published by Horace Liveright, New York. (Verified on paper)

“Yes,” continued Mrs. Gunn, patting Lucile’s hand condescendingly. “I have resolved to grow old, naturally and gracefully, content in the knowledge that the greatest intellects are the homeliest ones, and that the height of sophistication is simplicity.”

A solid match using the same vocabulary was published in a Sunday newspaper magazine by an art critic named Leonard Thiessen in 1946. The prominent French sculptor Charles Despiau had created a work depicting the head of the well-known model Maria Lani. This artwork was “one of the most cherished treasures” of Frank Crowninshield who had been the influential long-time editor of “Vanity Fair” magazine. Thiessen used the adage when he commented on the graceful sculpture:[2] 1946 March 3, Omaha World Herald, Section: Sunday World-Herald Magazine, European Intrusion at Morrill Hall by Leonard Thiessen, Quote Page 17C, Column 4 and 5, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)

Perhaps Mr. Crowninshield’s preference for the Lani head, by the simple peasant sculptor who was his close friend, proves that the ultimate in sophistication is simplicity.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

References

References
1 1931, Stuffed Shirts by Clare Boothe Brokaw (Clare Boothe Luce), Chapter 17: “Snobs, New Style”, Quote Page 239, Published by Horace Liveright, New York. (Verified on paper)
2 1946 March 3, Omaha World Herald, Section: Sunday World-Herald Magazine, European Intrusion at Morrill Hall by Leonard Thiessen, Quote Page 17C, Column 4 and 5, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

John Lennon? Allen Saunders? Quin Ryan? Walter Ward? Henry Cooke? Robert Balzer? L. S. McCandless? Publilius Syrus? Thomas a Kempis? William Gaddis?

Question for Quote Investigator: Recently, a medical emergency threw all my carefully constructed plans into complete disarray. I was reminded of a remarkably astute and ruefully humorous saying credited to the musical superstar John Lennon:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

When did he say this? Was he the first to express this idea?

Reply from Quote Investigator: John Lennon did compose a song containing this saying and released it in 1980. The song was called “Beautiful Boy” or “Darling Boy” and it was part of the album “Double Fantasy”. Lennon wrote the lyrics about his experiences with his son Sean whose mother is Yoko Ono. In 2012 YouTube had a streamable version of the song, and the phrase could be heard at 2 minutes 16 seconds into the track which had a total length of 4 minutes 12 seconds. Lennon sang the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] YouTube video, Title: John Lennon – Beautiful Boy, Uploaded by TheInnerRevolution on Nov 22, 2009. (Accessed at youtube.com on May 4, 2012; video removed after this date)

Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

But the general expression can be traced back more than two decades before this time. The first known appearance was in an issue of Reader’s Digest magazine dated January 1957. The statement was printed together with nine other unrelated sayings in a section called “Quotable Quotes”:[2] 1957 January, Reader’s Digest, Quotable Quotes, Page 32, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)

Allen Saunders: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.
—Publishers Syndicate

The newspaper comic strip “Steve Roper” was written by an individual named Allen Saunders and distributed by Publishers Syndicate. It is likely that the attribution above was referencing him. Saunders also worked on the strips “Mary Worth” and “Kerry Drake.” But the saying has not yet been located in any of these comics. Three important reference works list the Reader’s Digest citation to Saunders: The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs[3] 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 145, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) , The Quote Verifier[4] 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 123-124 and 305, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper) , and The Yale Book of Quotations.[5] 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Allen Saunders, Page 666, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

References

References
1 YouTube video, Title: John Lennon – Beautiful Boy, Uploaded by TheInnerRevolution on Nov 22, 2009. (Accessed at youtube.com on May 4, 2012; video removed after this date)
2 1957 January, Reader’s Digest, Quotable Quotes, Page 32, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)
3 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 145, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
4 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 123-124 and 305, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
5 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Allen Saunders, Page 666, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)