I received The Guinness Book of Poisonous Quotes as a gift, some years ago. As an educated man and a writer, I recognize most of the people who provide the quotes, as well as the targets of their insults, and am surprised at the viciousness of feeling amongst highly successful cultural icons.
There may be no honor among thieves, but fame creates challenges for the honorable, too. They will wish they could disappear off the stage. At the high end of cultural accomplishment lurk ass-biters from hell. Don't expect too much protection from them, no matter how honorable your intentions. The ass-biters will hate you for casting a shadow over everyone else.
Take stock of these witty insults from some of the finest writers who have ever lived:
- Carl Sandburg, author of the six-volume biography on Abraham Lincoln: "The cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg." (Edmund Wilson, Time magazine)
- Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22: "Heller wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is the debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior that children fall into when they know they are losing our attention." (Whitney Balliett, New York Times)
- President Theodore Roosevelt: "My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening." (Alice Roosevelt Longworth)
- "Vegetarians have wicked, shifty eyes and laugh in a cold, calculating manner. They pinch little children, steal stamps, drink water, favor beards." (J. B. Morton, Daily Express)
- "Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of the Atlantic with the verb in his mouth." (Mark Twain)
- George Bernard Shaw, playwright: "A dessicated Bourgeois; a fossilized chauvinist." (Pravda, the official newspaper of the former Soviet Union.)
- Oscar Wilde, playwright and poet: "Oscar and George Bernard (Shaw) cannot be reconciled. While I'm Wilde about Shaw, I'm not Shaw about Wilde." (Freddie Oliver)
- "The most dangerous thing in the world is to make a friend of an Englishman, because he'll come sleep in your closet, rather than spend ten shillings on a hotel." (Truman Capote)
- "I did a picture in England one winter, and it was so cold, I almost got married." (Shelley Winters.)
- "The Greeks—dirty and impoverished descendants of a bunch of la-de-da fruit salads, who invented democracy, and then forgot how to use it while walking around dressed up like girls." (P. J. O'Rourke, National Lampoon)
I am sure that these poisonous quotes caused considerable harm to many undeserving individuals, who simply made the mistake of succeeding. Again, speaking as a writer, I am impressed by the vitrolic rivalry that exists among celebrities. If you write a bestseller or win a prestigious award, don't expect everyone to be thrilled.