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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: Who Said What

From Washington Lawyer, April 2007

By Jacob A. Stein

Legal Spectator

I was making an argument before Judge Gasch, a patient judge. My opponent was exploiting the judge’s patience by constantly interrupting me. He was pompous and pretentious. I decided to put him in his place.

I said, “You are a sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of your own verbosity, and you are gifted with an egoistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify yourself.”

Well, let me say here that I wish I had said that. But I was not up to it. Benjamin Disraeli was up to it. If you turn to page 207 of The Yale Book of Quotations, you will see that Disraeli said exactly that about William E. Gladstone.

The Yale Book, edited by Fred R. Shapiro, recently appeared in the bookstores. It was six years in the making, and the editor used all the resources of the Internet to gather and verify the quotes. It claims precedence over Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Yale is unique in two ways. First, it is relentless, implacable, merciless, inflexible, and adamant in its pursuit of the source of each quotation. For instance, there is Senator Everett M. Dirksen’s remark, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it begins to add up to real money.” Yale notes that nowhere in any of Senator Dirksen’s papers or speeches is this statement to be found. There is no credible evidence that Senator Dirksen ever said it. But even if he did not, he certainly must have thought it as he flipped through the pages of the yearly budgets.

Second, Yale reports on the usual suspects: Shakespeare, Jefferson, Churchill, Tennyson, Longfellow, Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Jr. Yale also adds quotes from the movies, popular songs old and new, and product advertisements.

Yale has pages devoted to old and new proverbs. Back in the 1950s I collected proverbs, and when in New York I roamed the used-book stores looking for proverb books to add to my collection. I was told in each store that Colonel Ginzburg had been there two weeks before and had bought all the proverb books.

Who was Colonel Ginzburg? I found out who he was when an article in the New York Times said he was connected with the United Nations and he had published a book of worldwide proverbial wisdom. I got his book, and I was pleased to see that all Ginzburg’s proverbs were already in the books I had. There was, however, a Turkish proverb: “The explanation is worse than the blunder.” It was followed by this Turkish delight:

A king known for his cruelty demanded that his court jester illustrate, within the hour, the meaning of the proverb, or be tortured to death.
     When the king and his queen, some time later, slowly mounted a staircase, the jester stole behind them and gave the king a loving pinch on his behind. The king, with sword drawn, wheeled around and was about to decapitate the fool who yelled:
     “Sorry, Your Majesty, I thought it was the Queen!”

Yale includes a quote of the English essayist and novelist Hugh Kingsmill (1889–1949). Kingsmill’s quote is “Friends are God’s apology for relations.” An interesting flash of cynicism. If Kingsmill wished to be included in Yale, I think he would have wanted this:

Most of the avoidable suffering in life springs from our attempts to avoid the unavoidable suffering inherent in the fragmentary nature of our present existence. We expect immortal satisfactions from mortal conditions and lasting and perfect happiness in the midst of universal change. To encourage this expectation, to persuade mankind that the ideal is realisable in this world, after a few preliminary changes in external conditions, is the distinguishing mark of all charlatans whether in thought or action.

On page 160 there is a one-line quotation of Robert Clive’s. Clive (1725–1774) fought the battles that brought India into the British Empire. Clive’s political enemies alleged that he stole a fortune in the process. Clive was tried in the House of Commons. The prosecutor concluded his closing argument by vilifying Clive for his greed. When Clive rose to speak, he listed the many opportunities he had to enrich himself. “I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either hand with gold and jewels! [Dramatic pause.] By God, Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation!” That sentence put Clive in The Yale Book of Quotations.

The Yale Book is a thick, heavy book. I wish it were lighter. If it were, I would keep it with me at all times, for reading in the airport, on the bus, and waiting in court for my motion to be heard. Each time I open the book I find something new, such as this anecdote about Hoyt Moore of Cravath, Swain & Moore:

[W]hen some of Hoyt A. Moore’s partners urged that the office was under such pressure as to make additions to the staff imperative, Moore replied: “That’s silly. No one is under pressure. There wasn’t a light on when I left at two o’clock this morning.”

Jacob A. Stein can be reached by e-mail at jstein@steinmitchell.com.