This article is from the Quotations FAQ, by Sir Hans email@example.com Jason Newquist firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
Misquotation is, in fact, the pride and privilege of
the learned. A widely-read man never quotes accurately,
for the rather obvious reason that he has read too widely.
Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964)
"Common Misquotations" (1934) introduction
Lord Acton (1834-1902)
+--+ +---+ +---------+
(John Emerich Edward Dahlberg, 1st Baron Acton)
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 3 April 1887
in Louise Creighton "Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton" (1904)
vol. 1, ch. 13
Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess
William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (1708-1778)
"Hansard" (House of Lords) 9 January 1770, col. 665
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
++ ++ +---+ +---------+
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
"Twelve Songs" (1936) no. 9
This one's become very popular on alt.quotations recently,
something we have to blame the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" for,
in which it is recited. The poem is called ``Funeral Blues'' in the
Gelett Burgess (1866-1951)
+----+ +-----+ +---------+
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one!
"The Burgess Nonsense Book" (1914) ``The Purple Cow''
Ah, yes! I wrote the ``Purple Cow''--
I'm sorry now I wrote it!
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'll kill you if you quote it!
"The Burgess Nonsense Book" (1914) ``Confessional''
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
+----+ +---+ +---------+
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to
This has not been found in his works; there is no known source for this
and it has been suggested (in "Bartlett's") that ``it might be a
twentieth-century paraphrase'' of
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall,
one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
"Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents" (1770)
which sounds like a good guess to me.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
+-+ +-----+ +-------+ +---------+
After a heated argument on some trivial matter Nancy [Astor] . . .
shouted, ``If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee!''
Whereupon Winston with equal heat and sincerity answered, ``And if I
were your husband I would drink it.''
Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan "Glitter and Gold" (1952) ch. 7
Jeff Shepherd remarked that this reference was to be found in "The
Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations", and it was--under Nancy Astor!
From another source I have heard that this conversation was supposed to
have taken place at around 1912, at Blenheim Palace, so one would
expect an earlier source if this really took place.
The other, even more popular, bit of Churchill lore we've seen here
quite a lot of times is the following exchange:
[Braddock:] Mr Churchill, you are drunk.
[Churchill:] And you madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober tomorrow.
in W. Manchester "The Last Lion"
To Elizabeth Margaret (``Bessie'') Braddock, MP, according to some.
I'm not sure if Braddock is mentioned in the rendering of this anecdote
in "The Last Lion". Both of these stories are described as false by
George Thayer in a review of a book about Churchill in "The Washington
Post" 27 April 1971, p. B6. Thayer spent a year as a research
assistant to Randolph Churchill on the biography of Sir Winston