Who Said That?: The Remarkable True Stories Behind the Most Memorable Quotes in the English Language
This book was one of my more successful titles though when it was published by Random House is contained only about half of what I had prepared. I was promised a sequel but that never happened because the editor with whom I dealt quit and I never succeeded in ingratiating myself to her replacement. Oh well. In 2016 the book was re-published in a new edition and it is available on amazon.com. Wouldn’t it be nice of you to order it and kick it up a notch in the sales rankings? You can find a link to this and my other books on the lower right hand-side of the homepage of this website.
To admirers of literature everywhere.
A Push/Pull/Press book from JSA Publications, Inc. Copyright © 1996 JSA Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
John Bartlett (1820–1905) rendered a great service to the English-speaking world when his Familiar Quotations was first published in Boston in 1855. So mixed was the reaction that he was compelled to revise, supplement and re-edit it three times before his next major work, a concordance of the works of Shakespeare, was published in 1894. During those intervening years he and his work were the subject of much debate, some praise and a good deal of criticism. The major thrust of the critical remarks was that he included obscure quotes while neglecting the more popular expressions of the day.
Bartlett’s reluctance to include colloquial expressions rested upon two points. First, he sought to distance his work from the hugely successful Dictionary of Americanisms (1848) collected by his namesake, John Russell Bartlett (1805–1886) of Rhode Island. Second, Bartlett sought to develop a useful work that satisfied his own penchant for inquiry into classical literature. He thus set about collecting a list of formal quotations that he thought should be familiar to the average educated American. His purpose was not to develop a reference work; rather, he sought to create a vast summary of recorded western thought, a book that readers could cuddle up with when the desire to commune with Archimedes or Zola struck them. But, as we shall see, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”
Good quotes are popular, or should I say, popular quotes are good, because they are a nifty way to say something that frequently needs to be said. They are handy expressions that are useful in a wide variety of circumstances. Yet they have become so familiar to us that we fail to ponder their authors or the context in which they were first written or uttered. This collection of popular quotations and the circumstances of their seminal publication is a modest attempt to remedy this neglect.
Take for example, “You’ve hit the nail on the head.” How many hundreds of times have you heard this expression? You know exactly what it means and it is difficult to imagine someone using it in error. It’s that familiar. And just as you wouldn’t think of asking your grandfather the name of his first girlfriend—not because it would be wrong but because you just never thought about it—you probably haven’t given any thought to who originated this popular expression, where and why. But as it turns out, it’s quite an interesting story.
Who Said That? is filled with the stories of how popular quotations were given birth. But be forewarned. In many cases these tales are subject to speculation. Just as no one can credibly claim to have originated a proverb, some quotations have such a checkered past that it is impossible to trace them with utter certainty. In many instances the explanations provided here may not be the only ones. As Bartlett intended his work be one of learning, I intend this work be one of fun while learning. If it stands for anything, I would hope it fosters a sense of curiosity in the reader to question what is read and what is heard. You never know, the nugget of a fascinating tale may be soon discovered.
This collection of stories and anecdotes about the origin of popular quotes owes its existence to my love of the writings of G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936), the able British essayist, literary critic, philosopher and author extraordinaire. It was at a conference dedicated to his literary tradition that this book was conceived. Though Chesterton is regarded as the second most frequently quoted writer in the English language, sadly none of his remarkable quotations have won their way into the language to be called “popular.”
To John Peterson, Dale Ahlquist and Dan Krotz, my fellow Chestertonians, I offer my thanks for their contributions, suggestions and good cheer. To Lawrence Ajlouny and Marla Garfield I offer my thanks for their efforts in assisting me with this task. To Susanne Jaffe and Ana Camarata at Gramercy Books, I offer my thanks for their indulgence, and to Joseph S. Ajlouny and Gwen Foss I offer my special thanks for everything else.
Who Said That?
Quotations for which the source is not widely known
“Leave no stone unturned.”
Euripides (c.485–406 BCE)
Greek playwright Euripides is ranked with Aeschylus and Sophocles as the greatest of Greek dramatists. He prospered at the court of Archelaus, king of Macedonia, and it is said he won first prize in five dramatic contests. His tragedy Herakleidae contains the expression “turn every stone,” which over time has metamorphosed into the common expression we hear today.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Plato (427–347 BCE)
The political discourse of Greek philosopher Plato is legendary. The famous statement appears in Book II of his masterpiece, The Republic (c.375 BCE). The sage’s premise is that necessity is the creator of the ideal state, one which would administer justice, uphold the law and provide a stable society whose individuals could prosper to the best of their capabilities. The original quote translates as, “The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.” The folk process has expanded upon Plato’s wisdom to produce the common saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention and peril is the father.”
“A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
Titus Maccius Plautus (c.255–184 BCE)
Roman playwright Plautus’ comedy Epidicus is the first known source of this ancient saying, which appears in the original as, “A friend in need is the finest thing a man can have.” The irony is that the speaker, Periphanes, is in the process of being fooled by his own slave. Ordered to find him a girl, the slave, hoping to earn more money, brings in a young woman whom he claims is his daughter. Later, he sells her for another girl who turns out to be Periphanes’ long-lost daughter. The only happy person in the end of the play is the hapless Periphanes, who remains blissfully ignorant of the machinations of his devious slave.
“It makes no sense to flog a dead horse.”
Titus Maccius Plautus (c.255–184 BCE)
Although its literal meaning belabors the obvious, its figurative meaning clearly suggests that it is futile to carry on a fruitless endeavor. In seventeenth century England, “working out the dead horse” meant working off a debt you will never be able to pay. Plautus, whose play Epidicus contains the earliest known reference to this well worn saying, was a Roman writer of lively, bawdy comedies based on Greek originals. Many of his characters and stories were recycled in the twentieth century in a popular musical play entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
“Love conquers all.”
Virgil (70–19 BCE)
Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil, wrote the pastoral poem Eclogues from 40–37 BCE. In this lengthy opus, Virgil writes of the power and tyranny of the god of love. The protagonist Gallus, forlorn because his love has left him and he no longer finds joy in life, succumbs to this simple truth: “No toil of ours can change that god… Love conquers all; let us, too, yield to Love!”
“Bad news travels fast.”
Greek biographer Plutarch, an expert on ethics, wrote more than sixty essays on varying topics between the years 90–110, which were published under the title Moralia. In the chapter on courtesy, Plutarch attempts to redirect the energies of gossips, stating those who expend their curiosity learning about other people’s lives should instead spend it learning about the world. His eloquently stated truth translates as,
How much more readily than glad events
Is mischance carried to the ears of men!
“A sound mind in a sound body.”
Little is known about the life of the Roman poet Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenalis), but his sixteen surviving bitter and biting Satires were admired and imitated by the likes of Samuel Johnson, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and John Donne. In Satire 10, the poet writes that the best thing to pray for is Mens sana in corpore sano, “A healthy mind in a healthy body,” because anything else one might want—power, wealth, beauty—can only cause trouble. In the same work, Juvenal prophetically declares the only things the public wants are “bread and circuses.”
“Every man for himself.”
Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343–1400)
English poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic, The Canterbury Tales (c.1387–1392), contains a series of stories related by pilgrims on their journey to Canterbury. The opus includes the story of a pair of cousins serving life terms in prison. The two men see a woman out their cell window and, as fate would have it, both fall in love with her. One cousin mentions the old story of two dogs fighting over a bone, and comments how each dog has to look out for its own interests. The character sums up the situation saying, “Ech man for hymself.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers.”
John Heywood (1497–1580)
The Proverbs of John Heywood (1546) consists of an epic, proverb-laden poem. Many of the popular sayings we know today first appeared in print in this monumental work. In Part I, chapter 10, Heywood attempts to dispel the habit of marrying at too young an age. He writes of a young wife whose family scolds her for deciding to marry. Eager to repent, the woman does not ask her angry aunt what her punishment is to be, for she knows she is in no position to be demanding.
Nay, (quoth I), be they winners or losers,
Folk say always beggars should be no choosers.
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
John Heywood (1497–1580)
The Proverbs of John Heywood (1546) contains many of the apothegms and colloquialisms we know today. This expression is no exception. To demonstrate the wisdom of the familiar phrase, Heywood relates the story of a man whose uncle disapproves of his hedonistic lifestyle. The uncle reminds him that if he runs after pleasure, pleasure will run away; if he runs from pleasure, pleasure will chase him on. The advice, as written in the original, reads,
A man may well bring a horse to the water,
But he cannot make him drink without he will.
“Forewarned is forearmed.”
Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616)
Arguably the most famous of Spanish writers, Miguel de Cervantes is the celebrated author of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, better known to musical theater aficionados as The Man of La Mancha and to dazed high school students everywhere as Don Quixote. Considered his masterpiece, it was published in two parts in 1605 and 1615. The full quote, from Part I, Book I, chapter 17, reads, “Forewarned is forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.” Cervantes, a career soldier, became a writer after being wounded in the Battle of Lepanto, a naval engagement between the Ottoman Turks and the European allies, Spain and Venice, in 1571. Variations of dozens of other proverbial nuggets appear in Don Quixote.
“A man’s home is his castle.”
Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634)
A British jurist and member of parliament with a checkered career, Sir Edward Coke was described as being implacable but fair to the core. He is best known for his heroic resistance to the encroachments of the church and crown during the reign of queen Elizabeth I. The memorable phrase appears in the third volume of his legal treatise, Institutes of British Law. The full quote, translated from Latin, is, “For a man’s house is his castle; for where shall a man be safe if it be not in his house?” The legal principle he established is that if a thief, while robbing a home, is killed by the master of the house, the killing is justified. Coke’s habit of repeating this catch phrase in parliament was mimicked by revolutionaries of a dozen shades throughout Europe and the Americas.
“The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
The Merchant of Venice (1600) is among the many Shakespeare comedies with more quotable quotes than we know what to do with. In Act I, scene iii, a merchant named Antonio wants to borrow money, but the man who might give Antonio the money does not trust him to pay back the debt. Antonio delivers the well-known phrase to remind the creditor that what is on the outside is not always what lurks beneath. This proverb may already have been well known in Shakespeare’s day, but his play is the earliest printed source.
“I have it here in black and white.”
Ben Jonson (1572–1637)
Second only to William Shakespeare among British playwrights, Ben Jonson’s plays are marked by sprightly dialogue, strong characterization and elaborate plotting. His first play, Every Man in His Humour, in which the quote appears in Act V, scene ii, was first performed in 1598, with William Shakespeare as a member of the cast. The phrase refers to a warrant.
“Do as I say, not as I do.”
John Selden (1584–1654)
In Table Talk (1689), English scholar John Selden makes this all-too-common statement to enhance the similarly popular expression, “Practice what you preach.” Table Talk is a recorded conversation, and to illustrate the principle, Selden gives the following example: “Preachers say, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ But if a physician had the same disease upon him that I have, and he should bid me do one thing and he do quite another, could I believe him?”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
George Herbert (1593–1633)
English poet and rector George Herbert’s posthumous work, Jacula Prudentum (1640), is the first published instance of this well-worn phrase. It appears as, “To him that will, ways are not wanting.” As is the case with all proverbial sayings, this nugget of wisdom has been reworded and repeated in many different forms. The first known instance of this saying in its present form occurs in The Cruise of the Midge (1836) by Scottish novelist Michael Scott (1789–1835).
“It made his mouth water.”
Samuel Butler (1612–1680)
After the Puritans lost power in England, Butler wrote Hudibras (1663), a three part poem making light of their defeat. In the story, Sir Hudibras comes upon a widow whose luxurious assets and wealth draw him to want her, though she will have no part of it. Going against his oath, he tries to woo her with his courage and words of temptation.
And that his valor and the honor
H’had newly gained, might work upon her,
These reasons made his mouth to water
With am’rous longings to be at her.
“Stone walls do not a prison make.”
Richard Lovelace (1618–1658)
A wealthy English landowner, colonel Richard Lovelace wrote the famous song To Althea, from Prison, in 1642 while being held by the government on a charge of sedition. Lovelace’s song glorifies love and freedom,
saying that as long as a man holds true to his convictions, he is, in all senses of the word, free. The quote appears in stanza four.
Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free;
Angels alone that soar above, enjoy such liberty.
“The plot thickens.”
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1628–1687)
George Villiers’ play, The Rehearsal (1671), is a spoof of the dramas being performed in England at the time. Its farfetched plot concerns a playwright who produces a play about a prince who is brought up by a fisherman who is arrested for murder. During an erratic rehearsal of the play within the play, the playwright explains his plot in painstaking detail to two guileless observers, and as the plot thickens, the playwright delivers the famous line, much to their dismay.
“The end justifies the means.”
Matthew Prior (1664–1721)
May virtue be sacrificed for the sake of expediency? This is a question which has perplexed humanity for more than a millennium and has been explored in works by Greek, Roman and Arab philosophers. The first modern use of the statement occurs in a verse by Matthew Prior, an obscure British diplomat who wrote light verse and epigrams during his travels. Prior’s satirical poem, Hans Carvel (1700), tells the story of an elderly, impotent farmer married to a young beauty whom he cannot satisfy. Fearing he’s about to lose her to the charms of a more virile man, Hans contemplates making a deal with the devil to save her.
What if to spells I had Resource?
’Tis but to hinder something Worse
The End must justifie the Means:
He only Sins who Ill intends:
Since therefore ’tis to combat Evil;
’Tis lawful to employ the Devil.
“Hope springs eternal.”
Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
The great English poet Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man (1733–1734) acknowledges the chain of being—that while there are creatures lower than Man, there are creatures higher as well. Pope reminds us that while we anxiously await the future, we should be hopeful in our ignorance and let things happen as they may.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be, blest.
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expiates in a life to come.
“He was as sober as a judge.”
Henry Fielding (1707–1754)
English novelist and playwright Henry Fielding wrote Don Quixote in England (1734) as a burlesque of the classic tale. In his version, Quixote is caught up in a complicated love triangle: he loves Dorothea who loves Fairlove but whose father wants her to marry squire Badger. Finally Dorothea’s father agrees to let her marry Fairlove, finding Badger boorishly drab. Badger is accused of being drunk, but retorts he is “as sober as a judge,” leaving a sobering image in itself. Fielding was a lawyer and a justice of the peace before becoming a writer.
“A chip off the old block.”
Edmund Burke (1729–1797)
Quoted in The Historical and the Posthumous Memoirs of Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall, 1772–1784 (1815), member of parliament Edmund Burke’s words were aimed squarely at William Pitt the Younger, 22-year-old first minister of George III. Pitt’s father, the late prime minister William Pitt the Elder, was noted for his oratory skills which were said to rival those of Burke himself. Surprised by the youth’s eloquence in opposition to a 1781 bill reforming the king’s household budget, Burke exclaimed that Pitt “was not merely a chip off the old ‘block,’ but the old block itself.”
“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Henry Lee (1756–1818)
It is generally known that this quote describes George Washington. What is not generally known is that the speaker was General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, and the occasion was George Washington’s funeral in 1799. Lee was the father of another famous general, Robert E. Lee, who lamented after the bloody battle of Fredericksburg (1862), “It is well that war is so terrible. We should not grow too fond of it.”
“It’s not what it’s cracked up to be.”
Davy Crockett (1786–1836)
As a frontiersman, Davy Crockett disapproved of the U.S. government’s go-slow approach to westward expansion. He quickly became disenchanted with the supposed pro-annexation policies of president Martin Van Buren in 1838. Speaking of the president’s reputation for machismo, Crockett opined, “It’s not what it’s cracked up to be,” an assessment that persisted for decades. In the eighteenth century, the word crack in American vernacular meant “to boast.”
“To the victor belongs the spoils.”
William Learned Marcy (1786–1857)
President Andrew Jackson created the so-called “spoils system” in U.S. politics when, following his inauguration in 1829, he proposed to rid the government of corruption by firing two thousand federal administrators and appointing his supporters in their places. This policy did not, however, acquire a name until January 21, 1832, when New York senator William Marcy defended the practice in a debate with his famous exclamation. The description gained notoriety and was widely used, even after the Jacksonian policy on appointments was severely limited by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883. Today, the president’s authority to make appointments is commonly called the power of patronage.
“Mary had a little lamb.”
Sarah Buell Hale (1788–1879)
A widow who took to writing to support her five children, Sarah Hale was a permanent fixture in Boston’s social scene for fifty years. She was successful as the editor of her own women’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book. In 1830, she published Poems for Our Children, in which Mary’s Lamb first appeared. The heroine and her charge might have languished in obscurity had a tune not been created for them soon after Hale’s rhyme appeared in print. Mary’s Lamb has since become the most widely known nursery song in American folklore. Sarah Hale is noteworthy for single-handedly convincing president Abraham Lincoln to reestablish Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the war-weary year of 1864. Her simple rhyme became the first words ever recorded, having been spoken by Thomas Edison during the testing of his sound phonograph in 1886.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Thomas H. Bayly (1797–1839)
Nathaniel Thomas Haynes Bayly was one of the most popular poets of the nineteenth century, but now he is quite forgotten. Before his poems passed into obscurity they went through a period of ridicule, as may be imagined by the title of his song, Why Don’t Men Propose, Mama? Nevertheless, here is the final stanza of his Isle of Beauty, a place he is leaving with only memories to remind him of it.
When the waves are round me breaking,
As I pace the deck alone,
And my eye is vainly seeking
Some green leaf to rest upon;
When on that dear land I ponder,
Where my old companions dwell,
Absence makes the heart grow fonder —
Isle of Beauty, Fare thee well!
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873)
An immensely prolific hack writer of Victorian novels, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was once second in popularity to Charles Dickens. Today, however, he is best remembered as the inspiration for the Bulwer-Lytton Prize, awarded annually to the writer of the most overblown and comic-operatic opening sentence of an imaginary novel. However, Bulwer-Lytton didn’t just write, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and end there. That would certainly have shown too much mercy for his readers. The opening sentence, from Paul Clifford (1830), reads, in its entirety, “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” Cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, often pictures Snoopy high atop his lonely, literary doghouse typing such a beginning.
“Remember the Alamo!”
Sidney Sherman (1805–1873)
Though he is regarded as the most inept military strategist in modern history, Mexico’s eleven-time president and despot, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (c.1795–1876), scored a decisive victory over Texas irregulars on March 6, 1836 at the San Antonio mission-turned-fortress called the Alamo. Despite being outnumbered forty to one, the ragtag Texans withstood the onslaught for 13 days. Left with no water or ammunition, the survivors allegedly offered to surrender. Their lives were not spared. In the end, all 202 defenders were killed, including frontier heroes Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. The massacre so enraged the independence-minded Texans that they quickly accepted an offer of Federal assistance, and with the U.S. cavalry, won back the fort the following month. General Santa Anna was taken prisoner and forced to sign a treaty relinquishing Mexican claims to territory north of the Rio Grande. At the raising of the Texas flag, newly appointed commander Sidney Sherman eulogized the victims of the siege by urging the gathered to “remember the Alamo” as an example of valor for all times. Sherman’s remark entered the popular vernacular, used most often as a symbolic phrase suggesting revenge is forthcoming.
“It seemed so near and yet so far away.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
It took ten years for English poet laureate Tennyson to write In Memoriam (1850), one of the great elegies of English literature. It was a poem of mourning, admiration and death. Tennyson wrote it about Arthur Henry Hallam, his close friend and future brother-in-law, while studying at college. Part of the poem is seen through the eyes of a husband and wife. Once intellectual equals, the husband’s intelligence surpasses the wife’s, but her love for him remains strong. In canto 97, Tennyson reflects that his relationship with Hallam was much the same.
He thrid the labyrinth of the mind,
He reads the secret of the star,
He seems so near and yet so far,
He looks so cold: She thinks him kind.
“Put your best foot forward.”
Robert Browning (1812–1889)
In Respectability (1855), by English poet Robert Browning, two lovers comment on the customs of proper society and how their unconventional relationship merely lies on the outskirts. The man believes their love would not have developed as it did if they had been obligated to act within society’s standards. They revel that their exclusion at least did not earn them time wasted.
I know! the world proscribes not love;
Allows my fingers to caress
Your lips’ contour and downiness,
Provided it supply a glove.
The world’s good word! the Institute!
Guizot receives Montalembert!
Eh? Down the court three lampions flare:
Put forward your best foot!
“They have a skeleton in their closet.”
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863)
A contemporary rival of Charles Dickens, British author William Thackeray began his career as an illustrator and satirist for the irreverent newsweekly Punch. He attained popular acclaim with his masterpiece Vanity Fair (1848). His other novels include Henry Esmond and its sequels, The Virginians, and The Newcomes, in which this quote appears in chapter 55. Thackeray mastered a luxurious style that held readers spellbound in nervous anticipation. With the turn of each page, a dark secret or disastrous flaw of character might bring wreck and ruin to his finely crafted protagonists.
“The public be damned.”
William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885)
America’s first railroad tycoon was a man of vision and flair. This quote, reportedly uttered during an 1870 meeting with his largest freight customers, was used by the press to ridicule him as unconcerned for the average man. Despite the fact that Vanderbilt both denied saying it and claimed the remark was taken out of context, the quote stuck to him and came to symbolize the single-minded greed of America’s early millionaires, as well as the monopolist philosophy of the era. In reality, Vanderbilt was exceedingly philanthropic and supported a myriad of charitable causes.
“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”
Charles E. Weller (1840–1925)
Scarcely anyone who learned to type before 1960 is not familiar with this “little finger exercise” created by New Jersey typewriter salesman Charles E. Weller. The phrase was composed to help learners become accustomed to the rigors of typewriting. It was used by millions of typing students until the newer, less political “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” was coined by an instructor whose name has been forever lost to posterity. There was an advantage to the new phrase, however; in using each letter of the alphabet at least once, it also served as a quick test to determine if the machine had any broken or missing keys.
“If a man bites a dog, that’s news.”
John B. Bogart (1845–1921)
As city editor of the New York Sun long before journalism was taught in college, John B. Bogart prided himself on his ability to determine newsworthy stories from bunk. His instructive declaration on what is and is not news was subsequently taught to cub reporters and is often repeated today. His full definition is as follows: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news because it happens all the time. But when a man bites a dog, that’s news.”
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931)
American inventor Thomas Edison, not accustomed to tooting his own horn, gave this explanation for his success in an interview in 1916, shortly after taking a tour of Henry Ford’s first automobile assembly line in Highland Park, Michigan. Hard work was a virtue both men espoused and practiced. In tribute to Edison, Ford founded the Edison Institute in Dearborn, Michigan, a sprawling indoor-outdoor museum complex dedicated to American innovation now known as the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Edison’s fully restored and equipped Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory is among the permanent highlights of the exhibition.
“Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855–1919)
American poet and journalist Ella Wheeler Wilcox published the poem Solicitude in the New York Sun on February 25, 1883. Wilcox’s emphasis on the darkness of loneliness was meant to contrast an age-old truth: despite moments of misery, people are always eager to share in joy. The complete quotation, found in the first stanza, reads, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone; for the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, but has trouble enough of its own.”
“I can resist everything but temptation.”
Oscar Wilde (1856–1900)
Irish-born Oscar Wilde, Victorian poet, playwright and novelist, is best remembered for his roguish and paradoxical wit. In his play, Lady Windermere’s Fan (1891), Lord Darlington argues with the lady about her rigid code of morality. When Darlington tells her she is “fascinating,” Lady Windermere reacts disapprovingly. “I couldn’t help it,” he explains. “I can resist everything but temptation.” An examination of popular quotation collections reveals that many of the same or similar witticisms attributed to Oscar Wilde in Great Britain are attributed to Mark Twain in the United States.
“I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”
Clarence Darrow (1857–1938)
Celebrated attorney and labor activist Clarence Darrow is best known for heading the defense team of biology teacher John T. Scopes in the so-called “Monkey Trial” of 1925. Though Scopes was convicted of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching ideas contrary to the Bible, Darrow regarded the trial as his finest hour. As a free-thinker and Unitarian, he doubted the veracity of the biblical account of creation. He uttered the famous statement upon questioning from reporters after the guilty verdict was returned. Incidentally, Scopes’ conviction was overturned two years later by the Tennessee Supreme Court in a decision which nonetheless upheld the law’s constitutionality.
“It’s better to die fighting than to live in slavery.”
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928)
Emmeline Pankhurst was a forceful political activist in the early decades of the twentieth century. An advocate of women’s suffrage, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1905. She and her daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela, worked tirelessly to promote the ideal of equality for all. Appearing at the Army and Navy Hall in Petrograd, Russia (now St. Petersburg), in August 1917, she said, “Better that we should die fighting than be outraged and dishonored… Better to die than to live in slavery.”
“The mighty Casey has struck out.”
Ernest Laurence Thayer (1863–1940)
The all-American poem Casey at the Bat was first published in a San Francisco newspaper in 1888. Balladeer Thayer was said to have had an actual baseball player in mind — Dan Casey, who, though a pitcher, did manage to hit a big league home run (his only one) for the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1887 season. He was paid five dollars for the piece, which ends,
And somewhere men are laughing,
And somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville —
Mighty Casey has struck out.
“Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
Dorothy Parker (1893–1967)
Feminist and author Dorothy Parker is best remembered for her caustic wit. It is said that when she heard about the death of Calvin Coolidge, she replied, “How can they tell?” The memorable quote regarding spectacles appears in her poem News Item, published in Chant for Dark Hours (1927). She first made her mark with verse (one of her early collections was entitled Enough Rope), but her accomplishments were not limited to poetry. She wrote screenplays, short fiction and dramatic criticism, and served as a foreign correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.
“You drive for show but putt for dough.”
Bobby Locke (1917–1987)
One of the most epigrammatic phrases heard on the golf course, “You drive for show but putt for dough” originated with South African professional Bobby Locke, three-time winner of the PGA’s Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. Widely regarded as one of the greatest putters ever, quipster Locke coined the phrase to deflect attention from the game’s big hitters. It’s a sentiment most golfers would echo.