Uncle Roger's SigQuote

For several years now I've been using the following quote in my signature file:

There is pleasure pure in being mad that none but madmen know.

Intrigued by its origins, I did some research to find out where it was first used, and what other variations exist. Because others have inquired about the quote, I present my findings (so far) here.

I first heard the phrase as quoted (from memory) from the Manual for the Michigan Algorithm Decoder. The Michigan Algorithm Decoder (MAD) was an early programming language developed at the University of Michigan prior to the development of the BASIC programming language. The Manual apparently featured a picture of Alfred E. Newman (from Mad Magazine) on the cover. I'm told the quote actually contained a typo, in that there was an "e" added to the word mad, making it "made". This is most likely a typo, but the possibility does exist of it being intentional. (Unverified)

To find out more, I turned to

The New Book of Unusual Quotations
Rudolf Flesch
Harper & Row, New York

where on Page 215, under "Mad", I found:

There is a pleasure in madness, which none but madmen know.

This was attributed to William Hazlitt (1778 - 1830), possibly from Conversations of James Northcote (1830). (Unverified)

Next, I checked:

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
John Bartlett
Little, Brown & Company, Boston

which listed on Page 304, no. 19:

There is a pleasure sure in being mad which none but madmen know

as being written by John Dryden (1631 - 1700) in The Spanish Friar [1681], act II, scene 1. This, of course, is earlier than the Hazlitt attribution. (Verified)

Also in Bartlett's was a footnote, listing:

There is a pleasure in poetic pains / which only poets know.

as having been written by William Cowper, in The Task [1785], book II, the timepiece, line 285. (Web-Verified: [A], [B])

Searching the web, I found the text of a 18th century review (by one Samuel Johnson) of a 1757 work entitled A Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil by Soame Jenyns. The review quotes the Free Enquiry thusly:

...there is a pleasure in being mad, which none but madmen know.

It isn't entirely clear whether this is Jenyns' own writing or if Jenyns is quoting Pope (Alexander Pope (1688-1744)) -- the review introduces the passage by saying "We are next entertained with Pope's alleviations of those evils which we are doomed to suffer." So, I shot off an e-mail to Jack Lynch who posted the review in the hopes that he might be able to clarify the issue. He responded in part:

Johnson is quoting Jenyns, who is in turn quoting Dryden. Pope -- yes, that's Alexander Pope, the greatest poet of early eighteenth-century England -- wrote very little prose, and this doesn't sound like him. Johnson is almost certainly referring to his poem, _An Essay on Man_, which expresses ideas similar to Jenyns's (though not on madmen). The famous line from _An Essay on Man_ is "Whatever IS, is RIGHT"; the poem argues that the universe was constructed by God to be the best it can, and that seeming evils are actually good in the grand scheme of things --more or less what Jenyns argues. Johnson found the idea repulsive, and objected when people like Jenyns used it to preserve an unjust status quo. (The most famous advocate of the "best of all possible worlds" theory was Leibniz; the most famous attack on it is Voltaire's _Candide_, 1759.)

Mr. Lynch was actually extremely helpful. He thought that the quote probably did originate with Dryden, explaining:

Dryden was very well known throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth; it's likely that the many subsequent quotations (and misquotations) are referring to Dryden. (It was also Dryden who observed, "Great wits are sure to madness near allied.")

So far, Dryden's version is the earliest and the closest to the form I have used over the years. It looks like Dryden is the original source.

Of course, I would love to hear of any additional sources or similar quotations that anyone might know of.

If you are interested in doing your own research like this, here are some web resources I found useful: