Quotes Uncovered: From Soldiers to Farmers to Poets

Quotes Uncovered

75 ThumbnailHere are more quote authors and origins Shapiro’s tracked down recently.

A while back, I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

Michael asked:

It’s often attributed to Samuel Clemens, but can you verify that he said “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”?

The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their earliest sources, has the following:

“Anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the damnable. More than a hundred years ago somebody asked Quin, ‘Did you ever see such a winter in all your life before?’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘Last summer.’ I judge he spent his summer in Paris.”
Mark Twain, Letter to Lucius Fairchild, April 28, 1880. This letter is the closest source that has been found for the saying, frequently credited to Twain, that “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The Quin referred to was an 18th-century actor and wit.

Patrick asked:

I have searched for this but cant find it; the quote is something like “I am a soldier so my children can be farmers so their children can be poets,” or something along those lines.

Again, The Yale Book of Quotations has the answer:

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.” John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780.

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

alan gloeckle

Years ago, a professor of mine used the quote "the law is the law". I seem to recall finding the quotation (maybe in Bartlett's) but can't seem to these days. He used it in connection with an explanation of a difficult legal concept (something like the Rule Against Perpetuities(which I still don't and never will understand)).

Thanks for any help with this.


In the movie The Aviator, there's an exchange where Katherine Hepburn's mom declares to Howard Hughes that "we don't care about money here." He retorts, "That's because you have it." A great line, but I felt like I'd heard it somewhere before that movie. Did either of those people say that in real life? Did someone else?


What is the origin of this oft-cited argument against government spending?

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years."


The quote Beth speaks of from The Aviator is also stated in a West Wing episode: Young Jed Bartlett - We don't talk about money in my house." Younger Dolores Landingham - "That's because you have it."


My father-in-law has been searching for the source of this quote for many years: "The fruit of the tree of knowledge is the consciousness of our ignorance." He thought he read it while a young man in the merchant navy. I haven't found a source for him. I suppose that the idea traces to Socrates but not couched in such Biblical language.


Here's a recent one, I think.

"I for one welcome our new [something] overlords."

Language log says that Kent Brockman first uttered this when he said, "And I for one welcome our new insect overlords," on February 24, 1994.

Is he really the source?

David G.

Can you address who first mangled the excellent quotation, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." And changed it to the ludicrous "The proof is in the pudding."?


There is a case for compassionate conservatism which is described something like so:

We should give bread to the poor so that the poor do not come to our houses and take it from us.

The orignal source seemed revolutionary French to me, but I could be wrong. But I would love to know that someone clever invented this, rather than just myself.


Perhaps you could help out famous Science Fiction author William Gibson, who recently tried to trace down the origin of the following sentence, often attributed to George Orwell:

"People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."


Rendell de Kort

"If you torture the data long enough, it will confess." supposedly coming from Ronald Coase


i wanted to know who said (in reference to presidents faces on money) "i'll have no part of something practiced by european monarchs."

i don't know if thats the correct wording or not, but the quote is pretty close to those lines. i'm pretty sure it was a founding father that said it.

Samuel Franco

I'd heard the 'Twain quote as, "August in San Francisco," rather than summer. This was published in my National Parks Service orientation manual last summer. I'd like to know the quote's veracity as well, just to see where the Department of the Interior gets their facts from.

Sarah G

For Alan Gloeckle- perhaps this is a reference to the same quote, or the origin of the quote itself, but there is a poem by W. H. Auden called 'Law, Like Love' that contains the line-
"Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law."

Hope that helps.

alan gloeckle

Yes Sarah that is exactly the quote...I remember the judge's nose!!!
Thanks much.