Millard Fillmore at 212 – boiling mad?

January 7, 2012

Millard Fillmore was born January 7, 1800. Had he lived, Millard Fillmore would be 212 years old today, very cranky, and looking for a good book to read.  Had each year been a degree Fahrenheit, he’d be boiling!

Millard Fillmore clipart from University of South Florida

Millard Fillmore clipart from University of South Florida - Free! Click image to go to USF site.

Would you blame him for being cranky? He opened Japan to trade. He got from Mexico the land necessary to make Los Angeles a great world city and the Southern Pacific a great railroad, without firing a shot. Fillmore promoted economic development of the Mississippi River. He managed to keep a fractious nation together despite itself for another three years. Fillmore let end the practice of presidents using slaves to staff the White House, then called “the President’s Mansion,” eight years before the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Then in 1852 his own party refused to nominate him for a full term, making him the last Whig to be president. And to add insult to ignominy, H. L. Mencken falsely accused him of being known only for adding a bathtub to the White House, something he didn’t do.

As Antony said of Caesar, the good was interred with his bones — but Millard Fillmore doesn’t even get credit for whatever evil he might have done: Fillmore is remembered most for being the butt of a hoax gone awry, committed years after his death. Or worse, he’s misremembered for what the hoax alleged he did.

Even beneficiaries of his help promoting the Mississippi River have taken his name off their annual celebration of the event. Fillmore has been eclipsed, even in mediocrity (is there still a Millard Fillmore Society in Washington?).

Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore.

Millard Fillmore, free clipart from University of South Florida

Millard Fillmore, free clipart from University of South Florida

Millard Fillmore was a man of great civic spirit, a man who answered the call to serve even when most others couldn’t hear it at all. He was a successful lawyer, despite having had only six months of formal education (a tribute to non-high school graduates and lifelong learning). Unable to save the Union, he established the University of Buffalo and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. During the Civil War, he led the local militia in support of the war effort, many rungs down from his role of Commander-in-Chief. And, it is said of him that Queen Victoria said he was the most handsome man she had ever met.

A guy like that deserves a toast, don’t you think?


Einstein probably didn’t say that

January 7, 2012

Aphorisms that sound great, but to whom we have forgotten proper attribution, often get pinned on great people who did not say them.

Einstein's journals featuring comments on his first tour of Japan, in 1922 - Morgan Library via The New Yorker

Einstein’s journals featuring comments on his first tour of Japan, in 1922 – Morgan Library via The New Yorker

It’s a common problem. But I think everyone should strive to accurately cite quotations.

Occasionally the misattribution takes on added significance because of the reputation of the person to whom it is misattributed. This becomes a larger problem, because it often dragoons the reputation of some great person into a service they would not intend.

In the masthead of Climate Change Dispatch (“because the debate is not over”) we find this quotation, design to puncture the bubble arrogance surrounding all those climate scientists, I suppose:

“The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance.”
—Albert Einstein

You know where I’m going with this. Einstein didn’t say it, so far as I can find.

I can’t find any source older than about 2000 that even has the quote. Most attribute it to Einstein. It does not appear in any halfway scholarly collection of Einstein quotes, however. It’s not at the WikiQuotes site. It’s not in any of my three editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Just to check such claims, I ordered The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (collected and edited by Alice Calaprice) from Princeton University Press.  Alas, they had exhausted their stock.  When my favorite Border’s Books was closing out, I found the book in the reference section.

The quote does not appear in any form in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, that I have found.

Keepers of the Climate Change Dispatch site said the quote came from a book about Einstein read years ago, but now forgotten. (Yes, I asked.)

I suppose it’s possible there is another, much over-looked source for the quote out there. If you can find it, please let me know.

But for the immediate future, I would advise you to put the quote attributed to Einstien on your “no-he-didn’t-say-it” list.

One more example of how people attribute aphorisms to famous people, and as used to poke at climate scientists, another example of our getting into trouble, not because of what we don’t know, but because of what we know that just is not true.

Ironic, too.  It’s not that the current purveyors don’t know about the quote or about Einstein, but that they are arrogantly insisting on the veracity of a false quote.

I wonder if the masthead there will ever change.

Update: Climate Change Dispatch is every bit as reprobate on science and policy, but they’ve dropped the quote falsely attributed to Einstein, at least as of August 2021.

%d bloggers like this: