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Chapter & Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

March-April 2007

Wayles Brown asks whether anyone can provide an exact source and the precise wording for a comment often attributed to Oscar Wilde: “The trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many free evenings.”

Jessica Pierce asks whether anyone can provide an exact source and the precise wording for another comment often attributed to Oscar Wilde: “Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.”

Editor’s note: “Chapter and Verse,” which first appeared in our July-August 1979 issue, has matched “lost words” and half-remembered plots to their respective authors and titles a gratifying number of times, thanks to our readers—but many other queries, including some of the most lively and provocative, remain unsourced. In an effort to improve their odds of identification, we plan to reprint these as-yet-unattributed fragments, in hopes that new readers—of this magazine and on the Internet—can pin them down.

~Who said of the winter wind, “Just listen to Old Betty Copperteeth!”?

~Who asserted, “It is the secret desire of every slave to have a slave of his own”?

~Who referred to “communists breaking eggs for some great omelette of the future”?

~Who wrote, “Young as the young never are—seasoned with summer…”?

~Who snipped that “the only people who are always at their best are invariably mediocre”? (Many websites attribute this judgment to Jean Giraudoux, but fail to provide a precise source.)

~What was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s source for a quotation found in one of her letters: “Let the sisters [sistrums?] be brought and the harps”?

~Who wrote of “chariots of gold and electrum”?

~Who declared that “God won’t ask us whether we succeeded in business”?

~Who warned, “Planning is the substitution of error for chance”?

 

Send inquiries and answers to “Chapter and Verse,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or via e-mail to chapterandverse@harvardmag.com.