Viral Quotes: Remark about a funeral: I approve of it (attrib Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar 1887; attrib Mark Twain 1938)

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 8 04:36:37 UTC 2011

A quick check of GNA finds further attributions to "Judge Hoar" in NYT in
Feb. 1893 and Feb. 1895. Then another NYT appearance with a near-anonymous
attribution a year later.
New York Times - Nov 3, 1896

> President Cleveland's Failure to register in New-York this year, taken in
> connection with his well-known views as to Bryan's candidacy, reminds The
> Springfield Republican of the story told about a well-known resident of
> Concord, who, when asked if her were going to attend the funeral of a
> certain man, said, "No, but I approve of it."

Incidentally, this is followed by a comment on Helen Kellar [sic] learning
to ride a bicycle (a tandem).

Again, the same comment in 1901, but with entirely different attribution.
New York Times - May 19, 1901
Some of Mr. Evarts's Jokes.

> On being asked whether he would go to the funeral of a man whom he very
> much disliked, Evarts replied: "No, I shall not attend; but I quite approve
> of it."

Then, again, NYT picks up the same theme in 1909, returning it to Hoar.
*New York Times - Aug 12, 1909*

> Senator Patrick H. McCarren, when asked if he would attend the conference,
> said:
> "I can only repeat what the late Senator Hoar said when asked if he would
> attend the funeral of Ben Butler: 'I cannot attend, but I approve of it.' "

Boston Globe also cited a similar anonymous reaction in 1915, but upon the
funeral of Wendell Phillips.

When he died a distinguished public man is said to have said: "I shall not
> attend WendeIl E. Phillips' funeral, but I approve of it."

There are several other hits in PQA, but the GNA preview snippets do not
give sufficient information either about attribution or, indeed, if the
expression is similar, as opposed to a pair of disconnected sentences.
These include both the Atlanta Constitution and WSJ in 1920, both apparently
attributing the quip to Judge Hoar, with one adding "the funeral of his
bitterest rival" and the other mentioning Ben Butler.

The last in this series prior to 1938 Mark Twain attribution is another
Boston Globe reference to Judge Hoar on January 3, 1937.

 It was Judge E. Rockwood Hoar who, when asked if he meant to attend
> Butler's funeral, replied, "No, but I approve of it."

What this means is that the quip was kept alive and repeated, quite often
with its original attribution to Hoar, nearly continuously from 1887 to
1937. Many of the Hoar attributions connect the quip with the funeral of
Benjamin Butler. In fact, this is quite impossible for the earliest citation
(1887) because Butler died in 1893! This is not to say that Hoar might not
have also said the same thing of Butler's funeral (preceding his own by two

Butler was the top proponent of anti-discrimination laws and co-authored a
number of civil rights bills while in Congress (not all passed). He was
subsequently a one-year governor of Massachusetts, but one worthy of
historical note (Wiki):

As Governor, he appointed the first Irish-American judge, and the first
> African-American Judge--George Lewis Ruffin. He also appointed the first
> woman to executive office, Clara Barton, to head the Mass. Reformatory for
> Women.

Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar died in 1895, so he was a contemporary of Butler's.
He also was born and died in Concord, MA, so the 1896 citation almost
certainly refers to him as well. He was a judge since 1849, then a justice
on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Grant's Attorney General,
then served in Congress with Butler (but only for one term) and returned to
legal practice. He was never a US Senator and was not confirmed when
nominated to the Supreme Court by Grant. But he did serve as Massachusetts
Senator prior to his judicial appointment. "Mr. Evarts" appears to be his
first cousin William Maxwell Evarts who preceded Hoar as US Attorney
General. Evarts died on February 28, 1901, which explains the piece in NYT
that attributes the quip to him.


PS: I did not supply all the dates and links--if anyone wants to follow up,
the search string in GNA was {funeral "approve of it"}.

On Sat, May 7, 2011 at 4:20 PM, Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at>wrote:

> I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of
> it.
> A recent CNN article contained the saying above with an attribution to
> Mark Twain. Some bloggers and twitterers contended that this was a
> "real" Twain quote; unlike the Clarence-Darrow-like quip that was
> wrongly labeled a Twain quote.
> Here are two citations and a link to my analysis. Feedback appreciated.
> Cite: 1887, Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men by Samuel Arthur Bent,
> [Fifth Edition, Revised and Enlarged] Page 581, Ticknor & Company,
> Boston. (Google Books full view)
> Judge Hoar, being asked if he should attend Mr. Wendell Phillips’s
> funeral, replied, "No, I am not invited, but I approve of it
> nevertheless."
> ...

The American Dialect Society -

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