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Chapter & Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

November-December 2007

Editor’s note: “If anything can go wrong, it will,” officially identified as “Murphy’s Law” in our copy of John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, struck six months ago when a technical glitch short-circuited all e-mails addressed to this department. The error was only recently discovered. We apologize to all whose messages appeared to have disappeared into the ether.

Huston Paschal wants to know where Hermann Hesse wrote of how the time of year of one’s birth affects when—seasonally speaking—one is most happy.

Andrew Schmookler seeks the source of “True insincerity is hard to find.”

Peter Panken, struck by the assertion “Age is a thief” in Sarah Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants, would like to learn of ancient formulations of this idea.

Allen Veaner hopes someone can point him to the source of the statement: “I make up a game and start to play; if I perceive I am losing, I change the rules.”

Brent Ranalli asks if Immanuel Kant declared that even a lawbreaker finds aesthetic satisfaction in his own punishment.

Kristen Zacharias requests the author and original place of publication of an essay about a professor who teaches informal logical fallacies to a female student and falls in love with her, only to be rebuffed as she identifies all the fallacies he uses in trying to persuade her to marry him. One plea is “You must love me.”

Update: “logical fallacies” (November-December). Elizabeth Bernstein recognized this reference to Max Shulman's short story  “Love is a Fallacy,” from his 1951 collection The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. George Sicherman added that the story was turned into an episode of the subsequent television show (season 1, episode 22, airing on March 1, 1960, according to www.tv.com).

Dorothy Richardson requests a source for the poetical reference(s) in the following bit of dialogue from A Trip to Niagara, or Travellers in America, an 1828 play by William Dunlap: “A traveller’s delight is the remains of cities and temples, the proofs of Time’s resistless power—as the poet says,—Give me broken pillars and obliterated inscriptions, bricks from Babel, and mummies from Egypt.”

Carol Pruitt is looking for a poem, from the 1920s or earlier, containing the line, “My cousin Clarence came to town with windows on his eyes.”

Karen Walton inquires, “When a patient dies despite the fact that his laboratory tests and vital signs are normal, it is said that he died ‘in Harvard balance.’ What is the origin of the phrase?”

Elizabeth Atkins seeks the author and title of a story, read in the 1950s, about a string quartet whose members, when given access to a famous collector’s library of scores, would rather play than eat.

“error for chance” (March-April). Fred J. Emery, former director of the Federal Register, amplifies the answer in our July-August issue: “It is true that I frequently used ‘Regulation is the substitution of error for chance’ in speeches in the 1970s. I think I always gave credit to its true author, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. I believe I so notified Paul Dickson in the 1980s, but once in print…. I guess being given credit for this observation is not the worst thing that ever happened to me, although I usually softened it by preceding it with ‘All too often….’”

“conduct our lives” (July-August). Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, suggests the source is Kant’s statement [often called his categorical imperative], “I ought never to conduct myself except so that I could also will that my maxim become a universal law,” from Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, section 1 (translation by Allen W. Wood).

“pluck…the counterpane” (July-August). Roger Netzer suggests James Thurber echoed Mistress Quickly’s account of the death of Falstaff: “For after I saw him fumble with the sheets,…I knew there was but one way…” (Henry V, act 2, scene 3).


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