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Misattribution

PRINCESS ZARA:

A complicated gentleman allow to present,
Of all the arts and faculties the terse embodiment,
He's a great arithmetician who can demonstrate with ease
That two and two are three or five or anything you please;
An eminent Logician who can make it clear to you
That black is white — when looked at from the proper point of view;
A marvelous Philologist who'll undertake to show
That "yes" is but another and a neater form of "no."

SIR BAILEY BARRE

Yes, yes, yes,
"Yes" is but another and a neater form of "no."
All preconceived ideas on any subject I can scout,
And demonstrate beyond all possibility of doubt,
That whether you're an honest man or whether you're a thief
Depends on whose solicitor has given me my brief.
-Utopia Limited, W.S. Gilbert

This is one of Gilbert's best satires - indeed, the whole Act I Finale is marvellous, a concise parody of all the British types beloved of Victorians and of colonialism (the plot literally involves floating an entire country on the stock market - something not as far from reality as one might like, it must be admitted - and satirising every part of it, from the governmental red tape holding back any innovation in Britain to censorship.

It has some dialogue problems - Gilbert's ability to revise was in decline by this point, and so very overly-wordy, formal sentences prevail (it's usually reworked for performance nowadays), but when it does pull together, it's Gilbert at his finest and bravest.

...So you can see why I'm peeved that so many quotation sites insist on attributing part of it to Benjamin Franklin.

Comments (2)

Caitlin:

One day, Mark Twain, Shakespeare, and Benjamin Franklin will have said everything . . . they're halfway there already, I think.

Indeed. As Alexander Pope once said, "He who trusts quotes posted on the Internet is a dunce and an ass."

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 5, 2007 2:57 AM.

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