I’m getting paranoid. I find myself double- and triple-checking who said what when I use quotations. I had a minor meltdown a few years back when a quotation I have framed and have always attributed to WB Yeats was selling in the bookshop in Trinity College, Dublin, also framed, but this time attributed to Oscar Wilde. I like both men, yet it seems more a Yeats thing than a Wilde thing. So, I’m sticking with Yeats.
On the bottom of my business e-mail, more as a reminder to me than anything else, I use another quotation, one I’d always attributed to Sydney J Smyth. It formed the basis of my first ever public speech, when I gave the Commencement Address on graduating in Valdez, Alaska (and that wasn’t today or yesterday). One day last year, I can’t remember whether someone brought it to my attention or whether I stumbled across it on the Net, but anyway, I found the same words attributed to one Sydney Harris. The former was a British cleric in the mid-1800s and the latter a US columnist from the 1950s. Now, knowing nothing of either man and having no personal attachment to them or their work, I was torn. Having given credit to Smyth for a number of years, I hedged my bets and changed the attribution on my signature to Harris. But then the anxiety started. I needed to know to whom I should attribute the words:
Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
It was important that I find out who first said this, as it’s the tenet by which I live (or try to live) my life. Unable to decide one way or another, having no particular grá for either of the men in question, I paid a visit to the Quote Investigator and did some checking. When I couldn’t find mention of the quotation on the site, I wrote and asked if they could do their thing. And then promptly forgot all about it. That was in July 2017.
Today, I got an email from Garson O’Toole, who has been described as the Sherlock Holmes of quote investigation sleuths, telling me that he’d done some research and that I should go with Harris. Case closed.
O’Toole’s book, Hemingway Didn’t Say That was reviewed by Fred Shapiro in the Wall Street Journal. It was featured on NPR, too. The New York Times ran a quiz on famous quotations as a result of O’Toole’s book and I was ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED to see that something I’ve been attributing to Hemingway in my workshops has no basis whatsoever. I took the quiz and got just one right. Cue mortification. The book is now on my list of reads.