Who said?

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

I always associated that line with someone in the entertainment business—P.T. Barnum or one of the old Hollywood studio heads. But before I threw it into my recent post about the questions Brian Grazer asks, I thought I’d better Google it. And the answer just knocked me off my feet.

The original source seems to be John Lydgate, a 15th century English monk whose day job involved writing poetry for Kings Henry IV through VI. Working at court, he undoubtedly led a cushier life than he would have in his Benedictine monastery. But it’s a tough gig when you think about it: What rhymes with “Henry”?

So Brother Lydgate coined the phrase but it have resonated most for Americans when someone who knew a thing or two about displeasing people put his own spin on it. No, not P.T. Barnum (well, maybe) or Mark Twain (also maybe, per the internet):

Abraham Lincoln:

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Sadly, he did not say this in a State of the Union address—or anything else we could consider a primary source. According to the interwebs, it appeared in a book called Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes That Made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller, written by his biographer, Alexander McClure.

I don’t usually trust those quotation compilations—especially if they’re intended to burnish a legend. But I would definitely use the Lincoln quotation for one of my clients, with the proper caveats.

 

“An unusually sensitive pig”

Digging into Alain de Botton’s book The Architecture of Happiness for a recent post, I came across this story:

“The fear of forgetting anything precious can trigger in us the wish to raise a structure, like a paperweight to hold down our memories. We might even follow the example of the Countess of Mount Edgcumbe, who in the late eighteenth century had a thirty-foot-high Neoclassical obelisk erected on a hill on the outskirts of Plymouth, in memory of an unusually sensitive pig called Cupid, whom she did not hesitate to call a true friend.”

The world has always been full of colorful eccentrics. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed meeting the Countess of Mount Edgcumbe, but I would certainly have liked to meet her pig.

Dig a little deeper into the story and you find more gold—and not just the gold of the casket in which she buried Cupid. It turns out that the Countess—her actual name was Emma Gilbert—was not the first eccentric Edgcumbe. Her husband’s relative the first Baron of Edgcumbe had a favorite dog. When the pooch died, the Baron mounted his skeleton in a special case and displayed it in the garden house of the estate.

But back to Emma and Cupid, who ate his meals at the family table (where, legend has it, he expired) and even accompanied his mistress when she traveled to London. One of the locals composed an ode to assuage—or perhaps to satirize—the Countess’ grief:

Oh dry those tears so round and big
Nor waste in sight your precious wind
Death only takes a little pig
Your Lord and Son are still behind.

Not exactly conventional rhymes—unless you pronounce “wind” like something you do to a ball of yarn. Then again, not exactly a conventional subject. After all, most people celebrate the death of a pig by stuffing an apple in its mouth and throwing a dinner party.

Sadly, the pig story may be apocryphal. (I know, I know—you’re shocked.) Here’s a photo of the obelisk and a very sensible explanation of its origins.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the story of the “unusually sensitive pig” made it into one of my clients’ speeches one of these days.