Good stories always trump facts. A good story is like brain glue. It stabilizes loose piles of memory inventory, thereby relieving some of your mental strain. This is why we have famous people say the things they should have said: because your brain is always trying to relax.
For example, did Galileo, while being tried in the Vatican for his heretical astronomy, say Eppur si muove (nevertheless, it moves)? Answer: no. But he should have. So he might as well have. Let’s just agree that he did and save ourselves a bunch of trouble, eh?
You’ve probably come across the “famous Goethe quote” that goes like this.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Sadly, Goethe said no such thing. My friend Bill (a Star Chamber contributor from way back) sent me this debunking link: German Myth 12 – The Famous Goethe Quotation. It’s a fascinating story. As the piece says, “Far too many online quotation sites have been slapped together and seem to ‘borrow’ quotes from each other, without much concern as to accuracy.” I’ve run into this phenomenon before myself, so I wasn’t surprised to find the “Goethe quote” here, here, here, here, and here.
It’s too bad, because it’s still a great quote, and a great quote looks better when it hangs off a big name. How disillusioning to learn that what Goethe really said (in Faust: Der Tragödie zweiter Teil) was “I am a jam doughnut!”*
Must all our favorite stories turn out to be untrue? It reminds me of that old line from Mark Twain: “Everything is a myth.”** Or was it Winston Churchill*** who said that?
* Not true.
** Also not true.
*** There never was a “Winston Churchill”