Spenser, like his creator, has favorite authors and quotes to which he returns over and over again. Unlike Spenser's TV incarnation as played by Robert Urich, who often explicitly - and awkwardly - cited his sources (for less literate television audiences, one presumes), in the books Spenser drops quotes everywhere with no context or attribution, frequently leaving other characters and the reader stumped. This page brings together the most frequently used quotes identified by Bob Ames and B&B contributors. Most quotes here appear in at least two different Spenser novels. 

The original index only extends through Now and Then, the last Spenser novel covered by the original B&B. Eventually we'll try to add the last four Spenser novels.

Ah, WildernessEdit

RBP answers this one in Crimson Joy, Chapter 12 with the following exchange between Spenser and Susan:

"'Ah, wilderness.' I said.
'Isn't that supposed to involve a loaf of bread and a jug of wine?'
'And thou, sweets, don't forget thou.'"

It's a reference to Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam [1879], stanza 12:

"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness-- Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"

Okay, that explains "Oh, Wilderness." What about "Ah?"

In 1933 Eugene O'Neill wrote a coming-of-age play wherein the teenage protagonist loved to quote scandalous poetry, which his old-fashioned mother found quite shocking. The Rubaiyat had touched the soul of a few other characters, and they each quote the odd quatrain.

The name of the play is "Ah, Wilderness."

Used in: Mortal Stakes, Ceremony, A Catskill Eagle, Taming a Seahorse, Crimson Joy, Paper Doll.

An adder's stingEdit

Dr. Parker likes this phrase enough to include it in three books so far:

Playmates Ch. 8: "More deadly than the adder's the foul mouth of an unusually short gym owner."

Paper Doll Ch. 17: "How much crueler than an adder's sting"

Bad Business Ch. 33: ""More deadly than an adder's sting."

As to its origin, consider the following:

  • King Lear, Act 1 scene 1: "How sharper than a serpents tooth it is to have a thankless child."
  • Proverbs 23: 31-32: "At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder."

Adder (according to Webster) is the common European viper, Vipera berus.

Why substitute one serpent for another in a reference to Shakespeare instead of quoting the original? Your guess is a good as mine.

Used in Playmates, Paper Doll, Bad Business.

Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badgesEdit

Another one of those lines, like "play it again Sam", that are remembered in popular culture but almost always misquoted. In the 1948 John Huston film "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" Fred C. Hobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and a Mexican bandit in a gold hat (Alfonse Bedoya) exchange the following lines:

Dobbs: "If you're the police, where are your badges?"
Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges."

In the original novel by B. Traven the film was based on (written in 1927, translated to English in 1935), the dialogue is a follows:

"Allright," Curtain shouted back. "If you are the police, where are your badges? Let's see them."
"Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don't need badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching' tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you."

Thanks to George Waller for leading me back to the original source. See;jsessionid=546vmmmap6l9w?tname=b-traven&curtab=1538_1&sbid=lc08a and for more information.

Used in: Looking for Rachel Wallace, Paper Doll.

Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sangEdit

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73. See Poetry

Used in: Early Autumn, Ceremony, Pastime, Walking Shadow.

Because it's thereEdit

This is the reason George Mallory gave in 1923 for why anyone would try to climb Mount Everest. New Zealand's Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay finally did so in 1953.

Used in Mortal Stakes, A Savage Place, and A Catskill Eagle

Cherchez la femmeEdit

"Let us look for the woman." - originally attributed to Fouche, also spoken by Alexandre Dumas the Elder, in The Mohicans of Paris [1854-5], vol III, chapters 10, 11. Or as Mike Doonesbury phrased it in the early '70's: "Keep an eye pealed for broads."

Used in Pale Kings and Princes, Playmates, Paper Doll, Thin Air, Potshot.

The course of true loveEdit

From the pen of William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Nights Dream, Act 1 scene 1, Lysander to Hermia: "The course of true love never did run smooth." You may also remember the Gene Pitney song from 1963, "True Love Never Runs Smooth." Words by Hal David, music by Burt Bacharach. See Lyrics

Used in Walking Shadow, Hush Money, Bad Business,

Curiouser and CuriouserEdit

Writing as Lewis Carroll, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson achieved literary immortality with his classic books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. This is from chapter two of the first book, after Alice had eaten a cake labeled "Eat Me" and begun to grow to enormous size.

`Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); `now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!' (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). `Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I'm sure I shan't be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can; --but I must be kind to them,' thought Alice, `or perhaps they won't walk the way I want to go! Let me see: I'll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.'

BTW let me be clear that this passage is from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Not only did Mike Loux on this site and Dodd Vickers on his attribute it to Through the Looking Glass, but so did a voiceover by Robert Urich in the Spenser: For Hire episode "A Madness Most Discreet."

Used in Valediction, Hugger Mugger, Back Story

Death is the mother of beautyEdit

Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning [1923], stanza 5. (See Poetry) The thought boils down to this: If we were never aware of down we couldn't possibly understand the concept of up, or think about how remarkable it is. Let me quote Sigmund Freud from Civilization and Its Discontents:

"What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When a situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things."

As Susan notes in Potshot:

"Supply and demand. If everyone lived forever life would devalue."

Robert Frost also noted there is no satisfaction in things that are too easy:

"For my pleasure I had as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down."

Used in: A Catskill Eagle, Taming a Sea Horse, Pale Kings and Princes, Double Deuce, Hugger Mugger, Potshot, Family Honor

Different DrummerEdit

From chapter 18 of Walden [1854] by Henry David Thoreau:

"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed,
and in such desperate enterprises?

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

Used in The Godwulf Manuscript, Valediction, Ceremony, The Widening Gyre, Hugger Mugger, Family Honor, Perish Twice

Dress for successEdit

David Gerber contributed the following: "Dress for Success was the title of a popular and perhaps rather crass book, written by John Molloy, and published in 1975. Its motto was (as I just found on, 'The #1 book to make you look like a million so you can make a million...'. For the author, it seemed, appearance was everything. It would probably make pretty amusing reading now, with so many changes in styles, but apparently there's an updated edition."

Yes, it was updated in 1988. Thanks for the info, David.

Used in Double Deuce, Widow's Walk, Shrink Rap

Enough with the love talk, off with your clothesEdit

This one sat unanswered for years and rather than make up a joke from scratch I waited for someone to find it. Tony Brooks sent in the following:

"Yes, as you say, the plot is obvious, but here's the best, and probably the original, version:

Scene, a train on the Trans-Siberian railway. In one compartment there is a Russian

officer and a peasant girl.

After two days in silence,
Officer: Have you ever been to OMSK?

Girl (terrified): No, sir.

The train trundles on across the steppes for two more days,
Officer: Have you ever been to TOMSK?

Girl (terrified): No, sir.

Two more days pass

Officer: Have you ever been to DNIEPERPROSHINSK?

Girl (terrified): No, sir.

Officer: Enough of this lovemaking. Take off your clothes."

Used in God Save the Child, Mortal Stakes, All Our Yesterdays

Eternal vigilance is the price of libertyEdit

In 1770 the following words were apparently first used by John Philpot Curran in his speech upon his election as Lord Mayor of Dublin:

"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance."

Then Wendel Phillips, in an address before the Massachusetts Anti Slavery Society in 1852 said:

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"

Thanks to for this one.

Used in: The Godwulf Manuscript, Looking for Rachel Wallace, Walking Shadow.

Every dark cloud has a silver liningEdit

Meaning there is some good in every tragedy, like a line of reflected sunlight along the edge of a storm cloud.

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING – “John Milton’s masque (dramatic entertainment) ‘Comus’ (1634) gave rise to the current proverb with the lines, ‘Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud/ Turn forth her silver lining on the night?’ Charles Dickens, in his novel ‘Bleak House’ (1852), recalled the lines with ‘I turn my silver lining outward like Milton’s cloud,’ and the American impresario Phineas T. Barnum first recorded the wording of the modern saying in ‘Struggles and Triumphs’ (1869) with ‘Every cloud,’ says the proverb, ‘has a silver lining.’”

From “Wise Words and Wives’ Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New” by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

Used in Pale Kings and Princes, Chance, Small Vices, Hugger Mugger

Fire is the heart of the houseEdit

Dennis Tallett originally wrote to tell me that this was indeed from Frank Lloyd Wright, who said fireplaces were "the heart of the whole and the building itself."

In the interest of "trust but verify" I asked for more detail. He responded:

"The Frank Lloyd Wright on fireplaces came from one of the many books of photographs of his works including those on his houses. It is a quote which would often come from his many seminars, talks and interviews. I have not found it in any bios on him. Will keep up my search until I can nail it down with a date and place. He was full of these one-liners. Met him at Taliesen West, Scotsdale, AR, before he passed away. Five of us spent the weekend there and he had plenty of advice and sayings like this."

Used in Paper Doll, Thin Air

Float like a butterfly, sting like a beeEdit

(The following is from Mike's original page of Pastime:)

Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali). This was his boxing credo; how he described his skills in the ring. Modest chap, wasn't he? The credo was actually devised by his aide Drew "Bundini" Brown. Mikael Igge Holmberg adds:

F.Y.I. the complete speech by Muhammad Ali was 'Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee. Your hands can´t hit what your eyes can´t see.'

Immortalized by Instant Funk, another soul group. The song Float like a Butterfly (round 1). By A. Bell/ B. Sigler/R.Tyson. Philadelphia International Records 1976

Used in: God Save the Child, Valediction, Pastime, Hush Money

Good man is hard to findEdit

It originated in the song "A Good Man Is Hard to Find (You Always Get the Other Kind)" words and music by Eddie Green, 1917. It's a blues standard and I've found recordings by Bessie Smith, Viola McCoy, Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Waller, Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Condon, and Les Brown. The renowned writer Flannery O'Connor also used it as the title of a short story in 1953. The rephrasing is a widely used penis joke.

Dennis Tallet, who is better than I at keeping track of source material, adds the following information:

"It's attributed to Mae West by the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying and Quotation (UK 1997) but found it in my local Borders (I do a lot of my research in places like that.)

'A Good Man Is Hard To Find.' A song by Eddie Green included in the show he wrote, 'Vaudeville' on Broadway in 1927 and belted out on stage by Sophie Tucker, the last of the red hot mommas. Ref. Who Wrote That Song, edited by Dick Jacobs,1988."

See Lyrics

Used in Promised Land, Sudden Mischief, Perish Twice

He ain't heavy, he's my brotherEdit

Father Flanagan started a home for orphaned and troubled boys in Nebraska in 1917. One of their symbols is a boy carrying another smaller boy on his back and the phrase "He ain't heavy, Father. He's m' brother." Actually it's folklore of a sort. The Father found the pen and ink drawing in a magazine and purchased the rights to use it as a symbol for his work. According to their old web site:

"The inspiration for one of Boys Town's most famous symbols came from a drawing Father Flanagan saw in a 1941 "Ideals" magazine. Father wrote to the magazine and received permission to use the drawing of a older brother carrying his younger brother on his back"

They were still known as "Boys Town" at that time. The new web site gives slightly different information:

"The picture of the two brothers first came to Father Flanagan’s attention as a line drawing in the Louis Allis Messenger, a company publication. Over the years, Father Flanagan had seen numerous examples of boys helping each other in a fashion similar to the one depicted in the publication. He thought the drawing would be a perfect example to illustrate the work done at Girls and Boys Town. Girls and Boys Town contacted the company for permission to reproduce the two boys in full color and to change the caption to "He ain’t heavy, Father . . . he’s m’ brother."

To clear up the confusion between the two accounts let me quote contributor Dr. Mike Weiler:

The story of Father Flanagan was told in the 1938 movie Boys Town starring Spenser Tracy and Mickey Rooney. As noted they are still around but the mission has changed over the years, and they are now called Girls and Boys Town. For more information visit their web site at Girls and Boys Town.

They no longer have a copy of the drawing on the site, but here's a statue they made to commemorate it.

The Boy's Town statue.

BTW: The Hollies had a song by this title in 1969 based on the above.

Update: Although the above is how the phrase became widely known it originated even earlier. Bill Cater, Past Governor of the NJ District Kiwanis International writes:

"Found your reference to "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" on your oft-quoted site. While Boys Town did adopt this phrase, I'm aware of an earlier usage of the quote. Can't say that it's the first (which is what I was hoping to determine), but it seems to predate any references I've found on the internet.

In 1924, the first editor of Kiwanis Magazine, Roe Fulkerson, published a column carrying that title. Fortunately, when Roe retired, some of his friends republished a number of his columns in a book called 'My Personal Pages.'

So, while we Kiwanians are happy to see that the phrase has been put to good use, it wouldn't hurt to give Roe Fulkerson a bit of the credit when you get around to updating your site!"

Glad to do so Bill, and thanks for the information. I found a copy of My Personal Pages and this was the first article, dated September 1924. In it Mr. Fulkerson writes of his encounter with "a spindly and physically weak lad" carrying a baby and "staggering towards a neighboring park."

" 'Pretty big load for such a small kid' I said as I met him. 'Why, mister,' he smiled, 'He ain't heavy; he's my brother.' "

Roe goes on the examine how profound he regarded that statement and how it could perhaps help us to view life in a better way.

Further Update:

Angela J Chambers decided to look into the matter more deeply and contacted the current organization asking about the original drawing. They were kind enough to write her as follows and send her a picture, which she forwarded to me:

"Attached is a copy of the original Two Brothers image that appeared in the Christmas 1941 edition of the Louis Allis Messenger. It was created by Mr. Van B. Hooper. He later became the editor of Ideals Magazine, and the drawing was repeated in the first issue of Ideals in December of 1944. In August of 1943 permission was granted for the use of this image by Father Flanagan's Boys' Home."

Used in: Early Autumn, Ceremony, A Savage Place, The Widening Gyre, Playmates, Small Vices.

He can run but he can't hideEdit

The first ever televised championship fight was on 19 June 1946 between Joe Louis and Billy Conn. Louis was warned to watch out for Conn's great speed and his tactic of darting in to attack and then moving quickly out of his opponent's range. In a famous display of confidence, Louis replied, "He can run, but he can't hide."

The "Brown Bomber" put Mr. Conn to rest with a KO in the eighth round.

Used in The Godwulf Manuscript, The Judas Goat, Pastime, Double Deuce, Back Story

"Here's looking at you, kid."Edit

It's from Casablanca [1943], written by Howard Koch.

Spoken by Humphrey Bogart (Rick) to Ingred Bergman (Ilsa).

Used in The Judas Goat, Looking for Rachel Wallace, Stardust, Paper Doll, Double Deuce, Small Vices, Sudden Mischief, Potshot.

Home on the rangeEdit

Lyrics by Dr. Brewster Higley, music by Daniel Kelley, it was written in 1936 and is now the state song of Kansas. See Lyrics

Update: Howlin' Hobbit pointed out that the above original entry was not only wrong but incomplete. "It was actually written in 1871 as a poem and the music added two years later, being first performed for an audience at a private dance." It was made the state song in 1947. HH supplied the following link with the correct information:

In the first and third books below he paraphrased the line as "Never is heard" - it is actually "seldom is heard..."

Used in Paper Doll, Potshot, Bad Business

"Hot diggity dog."Edit

Parker is using part of a very old phrase for humorous effect. Early in this century the frankfurter, which is really a mild sausage of German origin, was first advertised as a hot dog. It was served hot, the shape suggested a dachshund, and German immigrants were the target of much bigotry at the time so a popular cartoonist suggest it was indeed made of dog meat.

The word "hot" has been used for a very long time to mean "exciting." To use it as an exclamation another word had to be added and "hot dog" became a popular phrase, although one is more likely to hear "hot damn" in these more decadent times.

In 1956 Perry Como had a hit record where some nonsense words were added for reasons of rhythm and rhyme. "Hot diggitty, dog diggitty, Boom what'cha do to me" was the first line and the phrase "hot diggitty dog" was popular for a while. It passed out of common usage some time ago but it is used just often enough, as Parker did, that an American would understand. It also tells the listener that the speaker is either old enough to have used it in its time or wants to be considered intelligent for knowing the slang of another era. See Lyrics

Used in God Save the Child, The Widening Gyre, Stardust, Hugger Mugger, Widow's Walk.

Human voices wake us and we drownEdit

A line from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot [1917]. See Poetry

Used in: A Savage Place, Valediction, Playmates, Paper Doll.

I can't sing or danceEdit

I originally attributed this to 1976 movie Rocky with the dialogue between Talia Shire and Sylvester Stalone:

Adrienne: "Why do you fight?"
Rocky: "Because I can't sing or dance."
But when Parker used it in Double Play, set in 1947, I had to look further back. Rocky Balboa was a tribute to Rocky Marciano, "the only undefeated champion in any weight class in the history of gloved boxing." 49-0-0. He supposedly told the patrons of an English nightclub:
"I don't know exactly what I'm doing here. I can't sing and I can't dance, but just to be sociable I'll fight the best man in the house."

Used in Early Autumn, Back Story, Double Play.

If a tree fell in the forest and no one was around to hear it, would it make a sound?Edit

For the longest time I answered this on the individual pages with "Yes, deal with it." I still stand by that short form answer.

When I found it for the fourth time I knew more research was in order, and Simone Hochreiter pointed me to the source of that philosophy. I think it's garbage, but your mileage may vary. It's too difficult to summarize and too long to include here so I will have to ask you to visit this page.

Then again if you believe in Solipsism I don't exist and you can update these pages in your own mind, which will free up a lot of time in my view of the universe.

Used in The Widening Gyre, Ceremony, Walking Shadow, Sudden Mischief.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try againEdit

Usually attributed to Thomas Palmer's Teacher's Manual [1840], it was listed as such on the earlier pages for years until Dennis Tallett wrote in to say he found an earlier reference: "Although I've seen the poem attributed to Palmer, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and the Bergen Evans Dictionary of Quotations attributes it to W. E. Hickson (1803-1870). The poem: Try and Try Again

Tis a lesson you should heed Try, try again. If at first you don't succeed, Try, try again."

Used in The Godwulf Manuscript, The Judas Goat, Taming a Sea Horse, Hush Money, Family Honor.

If t'were be done, t'were well it be done quicklyEdit

From Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act I, scene vii.

Used in: Ceremony, A Catskill Eagle, Playmates

I'm shocked, shocked I tell youEdit

Casablanca, 1942. Major Strasser tells Captain Renault to close down Rick's place, and he uses the excuse that gambling is going on there. Being handed his winnings at roulette slows him down not a bit.

Used in Chance, Sudden Mischief, Hugger Mugger

It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needleEdit

David Freeman gave me the following when this one hit the third citation:

  • Matthew 19:24 - "And again I way unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
  • Mark 10:25 - "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter inthe kingdom of God."
  • Luke 18:25 - "For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

Used in Valediction, Walking Shadow, Bad Business

I was misinformedEdit

A classic scene from Casablanca (1942) between Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) and Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) :

Renault: "What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?"

Blaine: "My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters."

Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert."

Blaine: "I was misinformed."

Used in Paper Doll, Thin Air, Hush Money

Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpseEdit

I originally wrote:

Corruption of the favorite phrase of James Dean (1931-1955); the original was "...beautiful corpse." According to Bob Woodward in his book about the life of John Belushi, Wired, it was the late great comedian who often used the "good-looking" version. But wait, there's more. Long after I posted the above Dennis Tallett wrote in to say that he traced it back even further. This is a little longer than most citations I put up here but it's the kind of raw data I love. I usually boil a page of my own research down to a bullet point but I'll leave this one mostly intact. Take it away Dennis:

"It is found in the book Knock On Any Door (1947) by Willard Motely.
Pretty boy Nick Romano has gone from altar boy, petty thief to cop killer in Chicago. His pregnant wife has committed suicide. He has just been sentenced and returned to his cell. QUOTES follow:

Nick, in the lock -up, leaned his head back against the bars and closed his eyes. Live fast - Die young - And have a good-looking corpse. Nick blinked his eyes wide.

Chapter 92. (Four pages from the end of the book and Nick is strapped down)

The show was over. You don't have to pretend any more now. All caught up..... A kid in an electric chair all caught up. Life had been fast. Death had come young. The good-looking corpse would be carried by its arms and legs to a slab in the autopsy room.

I came across the phrase in the book Film Noir (1979) by A Silver and E. Ward which mentioned the film Knock On Any Door (1949) with John Derek as Romano and Bogart as the defense lawyer. In the film, Romano says it and in the book he thinks it."

Used in God Save the Child, Walking Shadow


In A Catskill Eagle Spenser was looking to rescue Susan and sought help from Eliot Ives of the CIA. Ever since, Ives has referred to Our Favorite Detective as Lochinvar. Iain Campbell wrote in to note:

"Spenser is in a hurry to rescue the damsel in distress (Susan) as was the hero [of the song in] Sir Walter Scott's poem 'Marmion.' The situation was very similar, because young Lochinvar 'so faithful in love and so dauntless in war' was to lose his true love, the fair Ellen, to 'a laggard in love and a dastard in war.' However, he galloped off to the rescue."

To be more specific, Marmion (A Tale of Flodden Field) is a rather dense book of poetic fiction whose climax is the battle that led toward Scotland eventually knuckling under to English rule. It is broken up into six cantos (sections of a long poem) in which Lochinvar is part 12 out of 38 in canto five. In context it's also a rather pointed dig at the main character but you'll have to read it to understand why. Cliff's Notes doesn't cover it so I had to rely on a synopsis by Iain to even begin to understand what was going on. See Marmion

For Lochinvar itself see Poetry

Used in A Catskill Eagle, Small Vices, Potshot, Back Story

Love doesn't alter where it alteration findsEdit

From William Shakespeare's Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters where it alteration finds Or bends with the remover to remove.

Used in: Thin Air, Playmates, Hugger Mugger.

Malt does more than Milton can, to justify God’s ways to manEdit

(The following was originally written by Mike on the Pastime page. I added the actual words of the second stanza while moving it here.)

Alfred Edward Housman, A Shropshire Lad [1896] ch. 62, "Terence, this is stupid stuff", stanza 2.

Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,

There's brisker pipes than poetry. Say, for what were hop-yards meant, Or why was Burton built on Trent? Oh many a peer of England brews Livelier liquor than the Muse, And malt does more than Milton can To justify God's ways to man. Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink For fellows whom it hurts to think: Look into the pewter pot To see the world as the world's not. And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:

The mischief is that 'twill not last.

On a side note, in Paradise Lost [1667], Milton stated: "I may assert eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men." He went on to state in Samson Agnostes [1671]: "Just are the ways of God, / And justifiable to men; / Unless there be who think not God at all." However, Alexander Pope said in An Essay on Man [1733-1734]: "Say first, of God above or man below, / What can we reason but from what we know?" Milton stirred up quite a bit, didn’t he?

Used in Pastime, Valediction, Back Story.

Man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven forEdit

Robert Browning’s Andrea del Sarto [1855], line 97: "A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?"

Used in Stardust, Taming a Sea Horse, Hugger Mugger.

Margaret are you grievingEdit

Gerald Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall: To a Young Girl. It's about the loss of innocence and idealism, and realizing that everything ends. See Poetry

Used in The Widening Gyre, Double Deuce, Potshot.

My strength is as the strength of ten/because my heart is pureEdit

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Galahad [1842], stanza 1. See Poetry

Used in: Promised Land, The Judas Goat, A Savage Place, The Widening Gyre, A Catskill Eagle, Taming a Sea Horse, Pale Kings and Princes, Thin Air, Hush Money, Potshot.

Of all the gin joints in all the worldEdit

One of Humphrey Bogart's best remembered lines from Casablanca. "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into mine."

The variations:

The Godwulf Manuscript: "Of all the outer offices in all the towns in all the world, you had to walk into mine." Walking Shadow: "One and a half billion males on the planet and I'm having dinner with Heckel and Jeckel." Hush Money: "Be about a hundred million white guys in this country, I end up with you." Widow's Walk: "Of all the banks, in all the world, you had to walk into mine." Bad Business: "All the biracial couples in all the world and I wind up with you guys." All our Yesterdays: "All the colleges in all the had to walk into mine."

Only where love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakesEdit

Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time [1936], stanza 3. See Poetry

Used in: Mortal Stakes, Early Autumn, A Catskill Eagle, Pale Kings and Princes.

Open-shuttered and passive.Edit

From The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, published in 1946. It was a compilation of two previously published semi autobiographical works: Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939).

"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed and fixed."

The Berlin Stories was set in pre-World War II Germany and was the basis of the play and later movie Cabaret. Isherwood called one of his later books I Am a Camera.

Used in Paper Doll, Thin Air, Hush Money

Prepare for what the enemy can do, not what he might do.Edit

General Carl Von Clausewitz, who wrote On War in 1832.

Even after skimming through two separate online editions of the above book I have not been able to find it. It may be a paraphrase of some of the concepts therein. RBP specified that it was from Clausewitz in Hush Money, Chapter 50.

Used in: The Judas Goat, Looking for Rachel Wallace, Early Autumn, The Widening Gyre, Small Vices, Hush Money.

Pretty to think soEdit

The last line of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Lady Brett Ashley suggests that she and Jake Barnes could have been happy together. The latter replies "Isn't it pretty to think so." In context it's a very cynical line because it never would have worked out.

Used in: Ceremony, Valediction, Crimson Joy, Pastime, Double Deuce, All our Yesterdays.

Readiness is allEdit

William Shakespeare, Hamlet [1600-1601], Act V, Scene 2, line 232.

This line is cited in ten books, and holds second place only to various lines from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in frequency of occurrence.

Used in: Early Autumn, A Savage Place, The Widening Gyre, Valediction, A Catskill Eagle, Taming a Seahorse, Pale Kings and Princes, Small Vices, Hugger Mugger, Bad Business.

Say it ain't so, JoeEdit

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson, of the Chicago White Sox was convicted of taking a bribe to help throw the 1919 World Series. The "Black Sox" scandal, as it was called, caused him to be banned from baseball for life. But the above quote was just the result of a reporter making up a cute story. The Chicago Historical Society notes: "According to Joe Jackson, the most famous line to emerge from the Black Sox Scandal was never actually spoken. A newspaper reported that as Jackson was walking through a parking lot after the grand jury hearings, a small boy walked toward Joe and said, "Say it ain't so, Joe." Joe was quoted as replying "It's so kid, it's so." Jackson said he left the courtroom, a deputy sheriff asked for a ride, the two got into the car together and left. No one else spoke to him."

Used in Mortal Stakes, Ceremony.

Small rain down does fallEdit

Most likely it is from The Lover in Winter Plaineth for the the Spring (Anonymous, c. 1530)

"O Western wind, when wilt thou blow,

That the small rain down can rain? Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again!"

Robert Bode at the University of St. Thomas supplies this translation of "The Western Wind, by the prolific Anonymous":

"Oh western wind, when wilt thy blow,

The small rain down can rain, Oh, that my love were in my arms, And I in my bed, again."

The quotes are:

Ceremony: 'The small rain still fell." Pastime: "The small rain down can rain." Walking Shadow: " And the small rain down does fall." All Our Yesterdays: "And the small rain down does fall."

Thom Pigaga notes that the quote from Pastime is dead on for that anonymous poem, which makes me think that the one from Ceremony comes from the same source. The other two are too specific and differently worded, so the question remains open.

Used in Ceremony, Pastime, Walking Shadow. All Our Yesterdays is not a Spenser book.

Sound mind in a sound bodyEdit

Juvenal, Satires, X, line 356: "You should pray for a sound mind in a sound body." Also used by John Locke in Some Thoughts Concerning Education [1693], section 1: "A sound mind in a sound body, is a short but full description of a happy state in this world." Juvenal wrote Saturae in the first century AD, and the justly famous passage is "mens sana in corpore sano." It also sounds quite a bit like a saying from the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, fifth century BC: "On balance, to have a healthy body, you must also have a healthy mind."

Used in Mortal Stakes, Taming a Sea Horse, Potshot

Spuds McKenzieEdit

Simone, my correspondent from Germany, asked about this one after its mention in Potshot but a few others noted it has been used before. The "raffish" looking character in the neon sign was a little black and white Bull Terrier used in a series of Budweiser beer commercials. They called him "the original party animal" (yet another Americanism) and showed him being treated as a celebrity in various high class drinking establishments. I have not been able to find a picture of the pooch himself but Jeremy Schofield found a copy of the neon sign:
Spudsfinal 1

And here's a cheap plastic mug with a little more detail:

Addendum: David Keech came through with a very nice picture. For those of you who haven't studied theGreek alphabet, the fraternity jersey he wears reads Delta Omicron Gamma.

Used in Small Vices, Hugger Mugger, Potshot, Perish Twice

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy EveningEdit

One of Robert Frost's better known poems. It's in Poetry, but I thought I'd include it here also:

"Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound´s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep."

Or as the National Lampoon paraphrased it in the mid 70's:

"Whose woods are these I think I know/ his house is in the village though/ he will not see me stopping here/ to sign my name in yellow snow."

Used in: The Godwulf Manuscript, Ceremony, Pale Kings and Princes, Walking Shadow. Melancholy Baby.

The stuff that dreams are made of.Edit

Humphrey Bogart's last line in The Maltese Falcon (1941), when asked about the statue. I believe Sidney Greenstreet referred to it that way earlier. Note that the line was from the movie, and not the 1929 novel by Daschiell Hammett, which I have in my collection. John Hustin is listed as writer for the screenplay, as well as directing the film.

Interestingly, Mike found the following quotation from an earlier source:

William Shakespeare, The Tempest [1611-1612], Act IV, Scene i, lines 156-157: "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on."

And Steven Rubio writes:

Spenser is most likely quoting Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. "The stuff that dreams are made of" is what Bogie's character says about the Falcon; since in Pastime, Spenser responds to the question "Like a Private Eye?" with the answer "The stuff that dreams are made of, sweetheart," we can assume this is one of his frequent and awful Bogie imitations.

BTW: Carly Simon included the phrase in her song "Coming Around Again."

Used in: Valediction, Stardust, Pastime

Sweet bird of youthEdit

The title of a 1959 play by Tennessee Williams pointing out the transient nature of youth. A middle-aged and faded movie star has taken on a boy toy as her traveling companion. When she finds that her latest movie has made her a star again (for what we know will be a very brief comeback) she drops him like a hot stone. Of course by then he has already become aware that at the ripe old age of 29 he is washed up in his line of work.

Used in: Mortal Stakes, Ceremony, Crimson Joy, Thin Air, Hugger Mugger.

Tank McNamaraEdit

When Spenser is reading the paper he often mentions this comic strip. Jeff Millar and Bill Hinds started it in 1973 and to quote from the web site of their syndicate:

"Sports is Tank McNamara's beat, his livelihood. A former professional football player who's now a TV sportscaster, Tank McNamara reports on the breaking sports stories of the day: the hot players and angry coaches, the pending lawsuits and drawn-out strikes, the constant roar and ever-increasing hype that make organized sports one of the world's most lucrative businesses."

Here in Boston it does not appear on the comics page. Spenser finds it on the scoreboard page in the sports section of the Boston Globe.

BTW the writers returned the favor by doing two weeks worth of strips starring Spenser and Susan. Find out about it here. [The strips ran from 12 May to 24 May 1997. Unfortunately the page where Bob posted the images are offline and the online archive for the strip only goes back to 1998.]

The nose knowsEdit

Not a quote at all, but Spenser being saved by his sense of smell more than three times moves it onto this page.

A Catskill Eagle ch. 52: The smell of hairspray behind a hidden door made the darkness less absolute, and made things less hopeless. Walking Shadow ch. 22: He smells smoke from inside his apartment where the Death Dragons are waiting. Hush Money ch. 49: Hawk and Spenser know that the Last Stand goons are waiting by their car by the smell of cigarette smoke. Back Story ch. 15: Spenser smells hair spray the guy at his desk uses and rolls into the room with his gun in one hand a a submarine sandwich in the other.

The more I looked the more she wasn't thereEdit

It was Iain Campbell who first found this usage from A.A. Milne.

"This quotation is from The House at Pooh Corner, Ch.1, beginning

'One day when Pooh Bear had nothing else to do, he thought he would do something, so he went round to Piglet's house to see what Piglet was doing. It was still snowing as he stumped over the white forest track, and he expected to find Piglet warming his toes in front of his fire, but to his surprise he saw that the door was open, and the more he looked inside the more Piglet wasn't there.'"

Used in Ceremony, The Widening Gyre, Double Deuce

There's no such thing as a bad boyEdit

I originally attributed this to Father Flanagan's "Boy's Town" because Spencer Tracy spoke that line in the movie of the same name. On further investigation, however, I found the writers borrowed it from another source entirely.

It's the first line of the "Starr Commonwealth Creed" (although nowadays they substitute the word "child" for "boy"; more accurate and politically correct, but it played havoc with my search engines.) Floyd Elliott Starr had the same idea as Father Flanagan, and started a home for troubled and wayward boys in 1913 on 40 acres and an old barn just west of Albion, Michigan. He, however, was not fortunate enough to have a movie starring Spenser Tracy and Mickey Rooney to commemorate his name and idea. For further information visit

BTW: Thanks to Iain Campbell for starting me on this quest of discovery.

Used in Early Autumn, Ceremony, Playmates, Potshot

Think long thoughtsEdit

Thanks to contributor Dennis Tallett for catching this one:

"'Write long letters, think long thoughts, pray long prayers.' Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham Jail addressed to My Fellow Clergymen. April 16, 1963. At the end of para 48."

Used in The Godwulf Manuscript, Small Vices, Hugger Mugger

Tough, but oh so gentleEdit

Larry Wiener writes: "There was a brand of piston rings that used to use that motto. What you have to do is look into older copies of the Saturday Evening Post (say the 1940s and early 1950s). The ads for this outfit used to appear in there."

Dennis Tallett finally tied it down.

"The print ads were from a company called Hastings Piston Rings, based in Hastings, Michigan."

I can't understand why there have been very few commercials recently expounding the glories of parts for the internal combustion engine.

Used in God Save the Child, Promised Land, The Judas Goat, Hush Money.

Twelfth of neverEdit

It refers to the song The Twelfth of Never written by Paul Francis Webster and Jerry Livingston and recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1957. For the record, it peaked at #9 in the charts that year, and I was stunned when I found that the Donny Osmond version went to #8 in 1973. The melody was taken from the 16th-century English folk song "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (a/k/a "The Riddle Song") See Lyrics

Used in All Our Yesterdays, Potshot, Shrink Rap

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?Edit

[The following is from Mike Loux's original page]

Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus [1604], Act V, scene 1. The person referred to in Marlowe's case is Helen of Troy.

By using this line, Spenser is comparing Susan's smile to that of Helen of Troy. It's a compliment to Susan's beauty, and hopefully Spenser will leave it at that (Helen was also responsible for the fall of Troy).

Helen was also alluded to in William Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well [1602-04] Act I, Scene iii, line 75: "Was this fair face the cause, quoth she, / Why the Grecians sacked Troy?"

Used in: Double Deuce, Walking Shadow, Chance, Hush Money.

The ways of the Lord are often dark, but never pleasant.Edit

RBP once again made this difficult to track down because he refuses to do research and relies on his somewhat-less-than-perfect memory, citing the author as "Theodore Reik" in Double Deuce and "a guy named Reich" in Thin Air. Theodore Reik is a well known Freudian psychotherapist. I haven't looked at his work too closely because I have more respect for "Have a Cigar" by Pink Floyd than the outdated rubbish that is Sigmund's legacy.

Librarian Katrina Yurenka notes that he may have been referring to the poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963.) A quick read through his collected works did not turn up the phrase but, as she points out, he has been known to follow similar themes. At the very least it opens up another area for further research.

Used in: The Widening Gyre, A Catskill Eagle, Double Deuce, Thin Air.

We never sleepEdit

Allan Pinkerton, a deputy-sheriff in Chicago, formed the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1850. The first detective agency in the United States, it solved a series of train robberies. In 1861 the agency was given the task of guarding Abraham Lincoln. In Baltimore, while on the way to the inauguration, Pinkerton foiled a plot to assassinate the president.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency was a great success. On the facade of his three-story Chicago headquarters was the company slogan, "We Never Sleep". Above this was a huge, black and white eye. The Pinkerton logo (along with a shortened version of the term "Private Investigator" or "Private I") was the origin of the term private eye.

They are a giant company now and well respected in their field. The current logo is very modern and impressive, but the old one just screams "gumshoe for hire."

Used in The Godwulf Manuscript, God Save the Child, Mortal Stakes, Hugger Mugger, Bad Business.

What do you mean 'we' white manEdit

The punch line to an old joke, it goes something like this:

The Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion Tonto are surrounded by hundreds of hostile Indians ready to attack
"I guess we've had it this time, old friend," says the Lone Ranger, preparing for death.
Tonto looks at him and says, "What you mean 'we,' white man?"

Used in Taming a Sea Horse, Playmates, Small Vices, Back Story.

A Woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycleEdit

Most sources I came across attributed this line to Gloria Steinem but it is not so. I found the following at

The letter below, from famed feminist Gloria Steinem, appeared in Time magazine sometime in September or October 2000.

In your note on my new and happy marital partnership with David Bale, you credit me with the witticism 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.' In fact, Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney. She paraphrased the philosopher who said, "Man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle." Dunn deserves credit for creating such a popular and durable spoof of the old idea that women need men more than vice versa.
- Gloria Steinem

Irina Dunn has confirmed this story, in an e-mail of January 28, 2002:

Yes, indeed, I am the one Gloria referred to. I was paraphrasing from a phrase I read in a philosophical text I was reading for my Honours year in English Literature and Language in 1970. It was "A man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle". My inspiration arose from being involved in the renascent women's movement at the time, and from being a bit if a smart-arse. I scribbled the phrase on the backs of two toilet doors, would you believe, one at Sydney University where I was a student, and the other at Soren's Wine Bar at Woolloomooloo, a seedy suburb in south Sydney. The doors, I have to add, were already favoured graffiti sites.

Used in A Savage Place, Pastime, Small Vices, Family Honor, Melancholy Baby

This Page Created by Bob Ames

Find out the history of this project The Story of Bullets and Beer here.