Quote: I shall lose no time in reading it: antedating (1871) (Gladstone 1897) (Disraeli 1898)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 15 03:08:11 UTC 2010

(Response of a recipient to a gift of an unwanted book.)
Thank you very much for your gift. I shall lose no time in reading it.

This witticism has been credited to William Gladstone, Benjamin
Disraeli, William Makepeace Thackeray, Moses Hadas and others. The
Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations attributes the quip to
Disraeli based on a 1903 citation in a biography titled The Man
Disraeli by Wilfrid Meynell. The Yale Book of Quotations also credits
Disraeli and cites a 1927 revised edition of the same biography.

The first citation I have located in which the phrase is used with
humorous intent is dated 1871, and the barb is delivered by a
“celebrated botanist” [BOT]:

[BOT] 1871 October 1, The British Quarterly Review, Article V, Letters
and Letter Writing, Page 411, Hodder and Stoughton. (Google Books full

A celebrated botanist used to return thanks somewhat in the following
form: - 'I have received your book, and shall lose no time in reading
it.' The unfortunate author might put his own construction on this
rather ambiguous language.


In 1883 the quip appears in the science periodical Nature. The context
is an article critical of testimonial letters which clearly indicates
that the saying is being used sarcastically. The joke is called a
"well-known formula" [NAT]:

[NAT] 1883 August 9, Nature (Weekly), A Result of our Testimonial
System, Page 342, Macmillan and Co., London. (Google Books full view)

Many testimonials are framed after that well-known formula for
acknowledging the receipt of pamphlets which runs as follows: - "Dear
Sir, - I beg to thank you for the valuable pamphlet which you have so
kindly sent me, and which I will lose no time in reading." And I heard
the other day a testimonial praised because it showed the electors
whom not to elect.


The number of citations grows from this point forward, and I will only
present a selective subset in chronological order. In 1886 the joke
appears again and the participants in the interaction are generic
figures [LIT].

[LIT] 1886 March 6, Littell's Living Age, On the Pleasure of Reading
(From the Contemporary Review), Page 603, No. 2176, Littell, Son and

There are many books to which one may apply, in the sarcastic sense,
the ambiguous remark said to have been made to an unfortunate author,"
I will lose no time in reading your book."


In 1887 a humorist who was well known in the period named Max O'Rell
used the quip in a book about the Scottish people. The book appeared
first in Paris under  the title L'Ami MacDonald and then in the
Bristol and London with the title Friend Mac Donald. O'Rell tells an
anecdote designed to show the wittiness of the Scots. Below is an
excerpt from a review of the French edition in English [LWM]:

[SCOT] 1887, Friend Mac Donald by Max O'Rell, Page 32, J. W.
Arrowsmith, Bristol. (Internet Archive)


[LWM] 1887 October 7, The Literary World, Max O'Rell on the Scotch,
Page 307, James Clarke & Co. (Google Books full view)

This dexterity in the use of language to conceal as well as to reveal
is admirably illustrated by another anecdote quoted by M. Max O'Rell
as a perfect combination of irony and humour.

                 Guarded Answers

An English author had sent his latest-born to several literary men,
begging them to be kind enough to give him their opinion on the
book. Two Scotchmen replied.
    - A thousand thanks, said one, for the book you have done me the
honour to send. I shall lose no time in reading it.
 The second letter was still more subtle.
    - I have just read the volume you so kindly sent me. I am quite
sure that the intelligent public will appreciate it at its worth.


In 1889 two nicknames are used that appear in several citations. The
author and book giver is called “Scribbler” while the recipient and
critic is called “Scather” [SCRIB]:

[SCRIB] 1889 November 02, Galveston Daily News, He Kept His Word, Page
7, Column 4, Galveston, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)

 Scribbler - When is that review of my novel coming out, Scather?
 Scather (professional critic) - Well, to tell the truth, I have not
read it yet.
 Scribbler - Yet when I brought the book to you you assured me that
you would lose no time in reading it.
 Scather - Well, I have lost no time in reading it yet. [America.]

In 1897 the quotation is ascribed to William Gladstone. In my research
this is the first time an identifiable historical figure is credited

[GLD] 1897 January 7, Otago Witness, Passing Notes, Page 38, Column 4,
Issue 2236, New  Zealand. (Google News Archive)

We may go yet further and lay the paper aside with a mental resolve to
read the poetry some day. It may be that our resolve is destined to be
something like the acknowledgment of Mr. Gladstone in return for a
book sent to him by the author: "Dear Sir, - I have duly received your
valued book, which I shall lose no time in reading."


In 1898 the quip is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli in the New York
Times; however,  the name Disraeli is not used in the citation.
Instead, Disraeli is referred to by the term Beaconsfield since he was
the Earl of Beaconsfield. The main topic of the newspaper article is
William Gladstone, and it begins with the claim that he was "very kind
to writers". The treatment that Disraeli supposedly gave to writers
provides a sharp contrast [BEAC]:

[BEAC] 1898 July 9, New York Times, Saturday Review of Books and Art,
Gladstone, Page BR455, New York. (Google News Archive)

Mr. Gladstone was very kind to writers and rarely failed to make
acknowledgments for the books sent him, "with the compliments of the
writer." Publishers frequently printed such missives, and thereby the
selling quality of a book (of little merit as often as not) was
augmented. …

Beaconsfield was not so amenable, and he very probably did not read a
fraction of the books sent him. He had, so The Academy says, a kind of
stereotyped form of acknowledgment, somewhat ambiguous in phraseology.
It read to the effect that he "would lose no time in reading them" and
probably he didn't.


In 1900 the saying is attributed to another figure who was prominent
in the time period. Thomas Bailey Aldrich was an American poet,
novelist, and editor [ALD]:

[ALD] 1900 January 17, The Daily Times, Page 2 Column 5, New
Brunswick, New Jersey. (NewspaperArchive)

Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who is kind to literary apprentices, is said to
have received not long ago from an ambitious young author a volume of
forbidding length "for him to read." For a moment he was staggered,
but then a happy inspiration seized him, and he made this delightfully
ambiguous reply: "My dear Mr. Smith, I have received your book and
shall lose no time in reading it."

In 1902 the saying is attributed to "Dr. Holmes" in a Salt Lake City
newspaper. Dr. Holmes probably refers to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
who was an M.D. and a notable literary figure of the 19th century

[HOLM] 1902 July 27, The Salt Lake Tribune, Literary Gossip, Page 26,
Column 1, Salt Lake City, Utah. (NewspaperArchive)

Whenever Dr. Holmes received a complimentary copy of a book from its
self-satisfied author, he used to make haste to write his
acknowledgment of the receipt of the volume, thanking the author for
sending it and saying: "I thank you for the book you sent me, and will
lose no time in reading it." - The Writer.

In 1903 Disraeli is credited with the expression in a biography
written by Wilfrid Meynell, but the author suggests that the evidence
is rather weak [MEYN]:

[MEYN] 1903, Benjamin Disraeli: An Unconventional Biography: Volume 1
by Wilfrid Meynell, Of Men and Books, Page 135,  Hutchinson & Co.
(Google Books full view)

To an author, presenting an impossible book: "Many thanks: I shall
lose no time in reading it." This ambiguity, fathered upon Disraeli,
might very well be his; and if there is as little evidence of the
paternity as that which sometimes satisfies a magistrate of sentiment,
we can say "Ben trovato" in all truth.


Skipping forward to 1931 here is a final bonus attribution to William
Makepeace Thackeray [THACK]:

[THACK] 1931 January 25, Springfield Sunday Union and Republican
(Springfield Republican), An Attic Salt-Shaker by W. Orton Tewson,
Page 4E (Page 44), Column 4,  (GenealogyBank)

To a notoriously bad writer from whom Thackeray had received a volume
he wrote: "I shall lose no time reading your book."


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

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