[Ads-l] Quotation: An acre of performance is worth the whole Land of promise

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 3 01:45:28 EDT 2016


Mardy Grothe, creator of the Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations,
asked me about the following quotation and ascription:

An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise.  William Dean Howells

Howells was a novelist and critic who lived between 1837 and 1920, but
it is very unlikely that he crafted the expression above which evolved
from a statement displaying superior wordplay written by historian
James Howell and published in 1655.

[ref] 1655, A Fourth Volume of Familiar Letters Upon Various Emergent
Occasions Partly Philosophical, Political, Historical by James Howell
(Clerk of the Councell to his late Majestie, Letter: 33, From: James
Howell, To: Mr. R. Lee in Antwerp, Location: London, Date: November 9,
Quote Page 75, Printed for Humphrey Moseley, London. (Google Books
Full View) link [/ref]

https://books.google.com/books?id=wr9CAAAAcAAJ&q=performance#v=snippet&

[Begin excerpt]
Sir,
 An acre of performance is worth the whole Land of promise; Besides,
as the Italian hath it, Deeds are men, and words women: you pleas'd to
promise me when you shook hands with England to barter Letters with
me; But wheras I writ to you a good while since by Mr. Simons, I have
not receiv'd syllable from you ever since.
[End excerpt]

Confusion between similar names such as "Howell" and "Howells" is a
known mechanism enabling misquotations.

Garson

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The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org


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