Roald Dahl? Willy Wonka? Gene Wilder? Horace? Lord Byron? Horace Walpole? Hudibras? Samuel Butler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 1971 film “Willy Wonka and also the Chocolate Factory” was an extraordinary confection. The candy-maker Wonka played by Gene Wilder used countless literary quotations while leading a tour of his manufacturing facility. One scene took place in a room through geese that created enormous gold eggs of cocoa. Each egg was analyzed by an “eggdicator” to recognize whether it was a great egg or a bad egg. One parent on the tour thought about the situation ridiculous, and Wonka responded to his skepticism via a quotation: 1

Grandpa Joe: It’s an educated eggdicator.Henry Salt: It’s a lot of nonfeeling.Willy Wonka: A little bit nonfeeling now and then is relimelted by the wisest men.

You are watching: A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest man

Would you please map this saying?

Quote Investigator: The renowned English author Roald Dahl published the children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in 1964. Dahl likewise wrote the screenplay for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” based upon his book. The line spoken by Wonka in the movie is not in the 1964 book, yet Dahl had it in the 1972 sequel referred to as “Charlie and also the Great Glass Elevator”.

The earliest strong match recognized to QI showed up in the newspaper “The New-York Mirror” in 1823. The reviewer of a brand-new melodrama referred to as “Undine, or the Spirit of the Waters” did not consider it a major job-related, but he enjoyed it and recommended it. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

As a drama, it is not of the family of legitimates; yet what then, that has actually not knowledgeable the fact of that excellent old couplet, that

“A bit nonsense, now and also then, Is reliburned by the wisest men!”

The reviewer disasserted credit for the expression by labelling it an “old couplet”; therefore, previously citations more than likely exist. Nonetheless, quotation experienced Nigel Rees deserves kudos for placing this handy circumstances in his compilation “The Best Guide to Humorous Quotations”. 3

Below are added schosen citations in chronological order.

The famed Romale lyric poet Horace that passed away in 8 BC contained thematically germane lines in the fourth book of his Odes. Here is an English translation: 4

Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:Dulce est desipere in loco.

Mingle a tiny folly with your wisdom; a little nonsense now and also then is pleasant.

Horace. Carmina. Bk. iv. Ode 12, 1. 27.

In 1744 the renowned English literary figure Horace Walpole wrote a letter containing a thematically equivalent remark: 5

A caremuch less song, with a tiny nonsense in it now and also then, does not miscome to be a monarch; yet to pen manifestos worse than the lowest commis that is preserved jointly by 2 or three Margraves, is insufferable!

In 1804 “The European Magazine and London Review” printed a thematically similar statement: 6

That wisdom should be the preovercoming principle of our actions is universally admitted; but I have some doubts that, formed as we are, a tiny folly, now and also then, is indispensably crucial. Many type of of our enjoyments, indeed, depend upon it.

In 1823 the quotation was printed in “The New-York Mirror” as stated formerly. In 1832 the couplet appeared aobtain in the very same periodical within a collection of miscellany type of. No attribution was given: 7

A bit nonsense, now and also then, Is relished by the wisest males.

In 1839 an exactly matching couplet showed up in the London periodical “Cleave’s Penny Gazette of Variety and Amusement” within a column via the following title: 8

Whims and Waggeries of Brother Jonathan!

Also in 1839 the couplet showed up in the London newspaper “The Champion and Weekly Herald” within a column titled: 9


In 1842 a newspaper in Charlotte, North Carolina printed a variant making use of the word “folly” rather of “nonsense”. The saying appeared in an post describing a recently released periodical: 10

Nor, sinceA little bit folly currently and also then, Is relimelted by the wisest males,do they intend to exclude those lighter write-ups of indevelopment, familiarly designated the chit chat of the day. . .

In 1853 “A Cyclopaedia of Poetical Quotations: Consisting of Choice Passperiods from the Poets of Eexceptionally Age and Country” implausible ascribed a variant couplet utilizing the expression “ideal of men” instead of “wisest men” to Lord Byron. QI has found no substantive support for this attribution: 11

A little nonfeeling now and then Is reliburned by the finest of men. Byron.

In 1868 the exceptionally famous repertoire of “Familiar Quotations” assembled by John Bartlett included the couplet in a supplement section at the end of the book. Bartlett was unable to determine the creator of the saying: 12

A little nonsense now and also then Is relimelted by the wisest guys. Anon.

In 1883 the couplet was used in a speech yielded at a meeting of the New Jersey State Board of Agrisociety. The speaker stated that the words were from “Hudibras”, a mock heroic poem by Samuel Butler that was published in 1684, however QI has uncovered no substantive support for this ascription: 13

All this verified the poetic aphorism of Hudibras: “A little bit nonfeeling now and then, is reliburned by the best of males.” Also that fun and also farming are not incompatible.

In 1891 “The Illustrated American” published a variant that offered a various word order: 14

If it be true that the wisest guys relish a small folly now and also then, sucount at no period can they relish it even more than at this holiday seachild, as soon as it is the component of the graybeard sage to end up being even as a small boy.

In 1971 the titular character in the movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” employed the expression as detailed formerly. In 1972 Roald Dahl publimelted “Charlie and also the Great Glass Elevator” which was a sequel to his beloved 1964 book. Dahl consisted of the saying: 15

“I have actually never met a guy,” said Grandma Georgina, “that talks so a lot absolute nonsense!”“A little bit nonsense currently and also then, is relimelted by the wisest men,” Mr. Wonka sassist.

In conclusion, Roald Dahl helped to popularize the expression in modern-day times by consisting of it in his 1971 screenplay and also his 1972 book, but it has a lengthy background. An amazing precursor was written in primitive Rome by the poet Horace. The earliest exact circumstances recognized to QI was printed in a New York newspaper in 1823. At that time the expression was described as old, and also the creator was anonymous. Lord Byron and Samuel Butler have obtained credit for more than one hundred years but these ascriptions are unsupported.

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Image Notes: Reduced-size, low-resolution imeras of a movie poster for “Willy Wonka and also the Chocolate Factory” and also a book cover of “Charlie and also the Great Glass Elevator”. Portrait of Roald Dahl by Carl Van Vechten accessed through Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to illustrator Laura Stitzel whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. She told QI around the circumstances in the movie and also the linkage to “Hudibras”.)