It’s Drudge Work Monday. BUT. The internet is awful. The internet can be awesome. There are some really dumb people out there in the world. There are some really smart people out there. Here’s the story.
I had picked up a couple of books from the FOL freebie table. I finally retrieved them from the floor of the truck to catalog. I skimmed the Forward of Builders of the Old World (Gertrude Hartman, D.C. Heath and Company, Boston, 1959, 1st 1946).
It is the hope of the authors [this book] … will equip its readers with a sense of their place in the long caravan of humanity, and inspire them to assume the responsibilities that will fall to them in a world that is growing more and more unified.
Lots to say about this. It’s a text of a certain sort, written at a particular time. Blah blah. I turned to the subsection, “How Printing Helped Men to Be Free,” in the chapter, “Great Awakening.” There I find that the author(s) apparently do not like to attribute direct quotes. There are no names, just “said one high Official,” “said one printer,” “said another.” I’m calling BS on this but that’s a different rant.
This caught my attention.
I have twenty-six little lead soldiers with which I shall conquer the world.Another
crappy old Bartlett’s 1891 nor 2002 turned up anything. Neither did The Harper Book of Familiar Quotations (1993). I typed the quote into a DDG search. Only the first four were relevant. After those the results were from algorithm wasteland. Franklin. Gutenberg. And a dude named Maynell. Back to the crappy old books to find an actual citation. Nothing. Note also that the results rephrased the quote to an imperative:
Give me twenty-six lead soldiers and I will [not shall] conquer the world.Who said this?
First up, Yahoo Answers. Yay.
“In Franklin’s day… .” [FYI Gutenberg ca. 1400-1468; Franklin 1706-1790]
No citations other than web sites. Keep scrolling.
Sort of makes you want to calmly walk outside and scream, doesn’t it?
Here’s the authoritative source of the first Ben Franklin claim.
Too far down the rabbit hole to stop now so what the heck? Typefoundry dot blogspot dot com from 2007.
This phrase or some variation upon it used to stick in the minds of English writers on printing like a maddening half-remembered tune. It was often attributed, confidently but without ever giving a reference, to prolific and sententious writers like Benjamin Franklin. From time to time the trade press tried to get to the bottom of the matter. It never succeeded.https://typefoundry.blogspot.com/2007/05/with-twenty-five-soldiers-of-lead-he.html
To disprove the attribution to Franklin (or Marx, or any of the even less likely candidates) would be a wearisome business, but we can be sure that if there had ever been a genuine reference to quote we should have heard all about it by now, many times over. In fact the earliest known instance of the phrase for which there is a certain date is in a small booklet, Une Visite à l’Imprimerie nationale, written by the dramatist Jules Claretie, and issued in 1904. The same text was repeated in the following year as the preface to an odd book, half type specimen, half promotional brochure, entitled Débuts de l’imprimerie en France. It was written by Arthur Christian, the Director of the Imprimerie Nationale. At the time of its publication the national printing office was preparing to move from the district known as the Marais to a new site in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. After the move, suggested Claretie, it would be possible to create a garden in the Marais and to preserve there the statue made for the Imprimerie Nationale, a copy of the original by David d’Angers in Strasbourg, representing Gutenberg,
celui dont on a dit lors de son cinquième centenaire: Avec vingt-cinq soldats de plomb il a conquis le monde!
(He of whom it was said at the time of his fifth centenary, ‘with twenty-five soldiers of lead he has conquered the world’.)
In the event the statue was moved to a garden in front of the new building. It is shown at the head of this post as it appeared after the building was sold by the Imprimerie Nationale when it left Paris in 2oo5.
The fifth centenary of the birth of Gutenberg was celebrated in 1900 in both Germany and France, and the event generated a great deal of printing. Who made the remark cited by Claretie, and on what occasion? So far the search has been unsuccessful.
The notion persists to this day that, although one cannot quite pin it down, it should be easy enough to locate the origin of the phrase if only one took the trouble to look in the right place. This idea appears in an essay by Francis Meynell which probably did more to ensure its currency than any previous use, but it did so in a slightly perverted form. Meynell’s version is ‘With twenty-five soldiers of lead I have conquered the world’. This phrase appears as the heading to an essay in the first of a series of leaflets with the title A Printer’s Miscellany that were issued by the Pelican Press in about November 1921. Meynell repeated it in Typography, a decorative octavo volume promoting the Pelican Press, issued in 1923.
4000+ words. Isn’t the internet awesome? Sometimes.