wish I knew
September 15, 2007 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Booth Tarkington wrote: "There are two things that will be believed of any man whatsoever, and one of them is that he has taken to drink. " What is the other?
posted by bashos_frog to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's the Gutenberg version of this text. I used CTRL F to reach this paragraph:

"Oh, they didn't want any DOCTOR," exclaimed the inspired realist promptly. "They don't want anybody to HEAR about it because Uncle John might reform--and then where'd he be if everybody knew he'd been a drunkard and whipped his wife and baby daughter?"

"Oh!" said Miss Spence.

"You see, he used to be upright as anybody," he went on explanatively.
"It all begun----"

"Began, Penrod."

"Yes'm. It all commenced from the first day he let those travelling men coax him into the saloon." Penrod narrated the downfall of his Uncle John at length. In detail he was nothing short of plethoric; and incident followed incident, sketched with such vividness, such abundance of colour, and such verisimilitude to a drunkard's life as a drunkard's life should be, that had Miss Spence possessed the rather chilling attributes of William J. Burns himself, the last trace of skepticism must have vanished from her mind. Besides, there are two things that will be believed of any man whatsoever, and one of them is that he has taken to drink. And in every sense it was a moving picture which, with simple but eloquent words, the virtuous Penrod set before his teacher.

My guess is that it's either the beating of his family (referenced above) OR lust (but that's probably my 21st century perspective.
posted by b33j at 7:08 AM on September 15, 2007

posted by b33j at 7:09 AM on September 15, 2007

I might be totally missing the point here, but I read it as an open-ended statement. Specifically, I take it to mean that for any given man, people will believe two things about him:
1) That he has taken to drink
2) X (Whatever is specific to the man in question)

The statement seems to suggest to me that people identify men in that manner. Thus one is a doctor and a drunk, another is genial and a drunk, another is intelligent and a drunk, etc. People thus think of men as both their primary identifying characteristic and, inevitably, as a drunk.

Again, I might be totally off my rocker and there may be some actual reference to a second characteristic of all men, but I see it open-endedly.
posted by Rallon at 7:17 AM on September 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

One is that he has taken to drink, and the other is that he has a "Quote of the Day" widget on his Google homepage, amirite? ;-)

Seriously, I suspect that it's just a jocular expression and there is no specific "the other". Whatever the hearer might suggest as "the other" would be very telling, wouldn't it? Like my favorite marriage advice joke: "There's two ways to handle a woman...and no one knows either of 'em."
posted by planetkyoto at 7:44 AM on September 15, 2007

I've read the whole story a couple of times over the years, and I don't think he specifically mentions the second thing that will be believed of any man. It may be some obscure reference to an older work, but I can't find it--I'm guessing it made sense in the drafts but ended up being cut later on.

Guessing about what he might have had in mind... I don't think he intended it to be something specific to the man in question, since he says "any man whatsoever". Lust seems kind of off, too, but beating his family might work. My personal choice, though, would be insanity, similar to "There are three great excuses one can use in life. To say that one is mad, drunk, or a poet." and all the other times when drunkenness and insanity are combined in literature ("Are you mad or are you drunk?").

(I'm surprised Penrod made it into the quotes, since it hasn't aged as gracefully as some other books...)
posted by anaelith at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2007

(I'm surprised Penrod made it into the quotes, since it hasn't aged as gracefully as some other books...)

Penguin just published a new edition, so maybe there's a Tarkington renaissance afoot.

posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:40 PM on September 15, 2007

Response by poster: You are correct about the widget, and yes, I went and read the chapter in question. Just curious about the phrase, as it seems like something the author might have heard as an aphorism, rather than invented himself.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:51 PM on September 15, 2007

My guess is that it was a reference to an aphorism, familiar to readers at the time - I have no idea what the other thing would be, but my money would be on something like "cheating on his wife".

Also, for those who are curious about whether there is a surge in Penrod or Tarkington popularity: I'm the maintainer of The Quotations Page, which Google uses as the source for the "Quote of the Day" widget.

According to our records, the quotation in question was added to the database last year, and we found it in the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations, published in the 70s.

The quote made our list because I liked it... although now I'm going to spend the rest of my days wondering what the Other Thing is.
posted by mmoncur at 8:56 PM on September 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

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