Sunday, September 25, 2005

Persnicketies rule, sir!

From Winston Churchill:

I am reminded of the professor who, in his declining hours, was asked by his devoted pupils for his final counsel. He replied, "Verify your quotations."

Here’s the funny part, though: Winston said this because he was apologising for misattributing another quote. But he botched this one too.
Oxford professor Martin Joseph Routh was once asked what advice he'd give young scholars. "You will find it a very good practice always to verify your references, sir!" said Routh (who was still far from his deathbed).** Churchill might have borrowed his garbled version of Routh's advice from an 1897 speech by the Earl of Rosebery, who referred to "the advice given by one aged sage to somebody who sought his guidance in life, namely, 'Always wind up your watch and verify your quotations.'"
Online sources, though? Couldn't find 'em. Boo.

** "I ventured to address him somewhat as follows: 'Mr.President, give me leave to ask you a question I have sometimes asked of aged persons, but never of any so aged or so learned as yourself.' He looked so kindly at me that I thought I might go on. 'Every studious man, in the course of a long and thoughtful life, has had occasion to experience the special value of some axiom or precept. Would you mind giving me the benefit of such a word of advice?' He bade me explain, evidently to gain time. I quoted an instance. He nodded and looked thoughtful. Presently he brightened up and said, 'I think, sir, since you care for the advice of an old man, sir, you will find it a very good practice' (here he looked me in the face) 'always to verify your references, sir!'"
- John William Burgon, quoting Martin Joseph Routh