When I was a freshman in college there was a band on campus called Big & Scary. In spring semester, I happened to be in an art class with the bass player. One day he came to class in a Big & Scary t-shirt with a testimonial quote on the back:
“Outta hand. I love these guys!”
– Bob Guccione, Penthouse
“Cool,” I noted naively. “When did Guccione see you guys?”
I still remember the shame I felt under that withering stare of incredulity. Obviously, the famed publisher of Penthouse Magazine had never seen St. Joseph, Minnesota’s most popular rock band, circa 1985.
Ever since then I’ve been just a little jaded and cynical about "quotes.” So tonight I wanted to look into one of my favorites. Did Ben Franklin really say, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”?
I really, really hoped he had. It’s a great quote and I wanted to believe in it. But, much like the Guccione quote, something about it just feels too good to be true.
ThinkExist.com says he did. And I’ve always kind of trusted that site.
Amy Packham thinks he said it. And she’s the Quotations Editor for BellaOnline. Quotations Editor, for Chrissake! It’s her friggin’ job, right? She should know what she’s talking about.
Even George Will – to whom I frequently ascribe genius status – has fallen into this trap. Check out this otherwise FANTASTIC article in which he manages the difficult task of misquoting the misquote. (Ben most certainly didn’t say that beer is “living proof…” Without getting into fermentation and living yeasts and such, can we all just agree that beer is not alive?)
But something still didn’t feel quite right. If he really said it, shouldn’t I be finding it somewhere in context? Where did he say it? To whom? Was he drunk?
My nagging little doubts grew to aching big doubts when I read this chunk of Ben’s autobiography. (Although, who’s to say the biography’s legit? Everyone knows the internet’s full of charlatans and con artists.)
At my first admission into this printing-house I took to working at press, imagining I felt a want of the bodily exercise I had been us'd to in America, where presswork is mix'd with composing. I drank only water; the other workmen, near fifty in number, were great guzzlers of beer. On occasion, I carried up and down stairs a large form of types in each hand, when others carried but one in both hands. They wondered to see, from this and several instances, that the Water-American, as they called me, was stronger than themselves, who drank strong beer! We had an alehouse boy who attended always in the house to supply the workmen. My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o'clock, and another when he had done his day's work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he suppos'd, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay out of his wages every Saturday night for that muddling liquor; an expense I was free from. And thus these poor devils keep themselves always under. /i/
Damn. Ben didn’t even LIKE beer. Or even beer drinkers! What the hell?
And then I started finding the quote in context. Sh!t. This link sums it up pretty well. But the short version is that Benjamin Franklin actually said:
“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
Seriously? Aw, crap. Not only did he not say it. Not only did he look down his nose at beer drinkers in general. It was even worse. He was a wine snob. (I love you both, Corinne and Dad.)
I’m going to choose to take a positive angle on this revelation though. Sure, Ben Franklin didn’t say it. All that really means is that the quote is available, right? So I’m calling dibs on it. Here goes:
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
– Greg Skoog
Feel free to quote me on that.