Quotes: The wisdom of Robbie Williams, or is it Oscar Wilde?

Many years ago a family friend, still in her 20s at the time, was bemoaning the behaviour of younger people and said, “Robbie Williams is so right: youth is wasted on the young”. I wasn’t aware that Robbie Williams had said it, or sung it, but had heard the quote. I thought that Oscar Wilde had said it first but felt it would have been wrong to correct her, so I didn’t. On checking just now I realize that it would have been literally wrong: it was George Bernard Shaw, not Oscar Wilde. Usually there’s a strong chance that a memorable quote will come from either Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain, but not this time. And the Robbie Williams song containing the quote is “Eternity”.

I have often heard variations of the expression “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes”. Most people preface it with “As Billy Connolly says …” but one of my friends attributed it to the Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin. A quick search just now also attributes it to the explorer Ranulph Fiennes, and to the fell-walker Alfred Wainwright. I have used it myself, and attributed it to Billy Connolly. Most of my friends and family have heard of him, and I know more about him than about Ruskin. (I recalled something about an unconsummated marriage, and his wife running off with a Pre-Raphaelite artist, and had to check just now who it was – Millais, I have just learnt, again. And her name was Effie Gray.)

One of my favourite Tom Waits lines is “If I exorcize my devils, well my angels may leave too”. (It’s from “Please Call me Baby”, on “The Heart of Saturday Night”, probably my favourite album.) It turns out that WH Auden said this sort of thing first. Stephen Fry quoted it on “Desert Island Discs” in 2014, here (34’ 06”), when questioned about bipolar disorder and its effect on his life.

“WH Auden the poet perhaps put it best. He said: Don’t get rid of my devils because my angels will go too”.

Or maybe it was Mark Twain.


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