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Major John

Keats! But I don't know where it came from... :(

gail

More points for you then -- the answer is Keats. I'll wait and see if anyone else comes up with the source before I give it away. It's very obscure.

Minnesotastan

originally in a Beaumont and Fletcher play (Philaster) in 1611, as ""All your better deeds Shall be in water writ, but this in Marble."

Minnesotastan

I ought to offer an addendum:

Beaumont and Fletcher's published Philaster in 1714 having borrowed the line from another tragicomic romance. These kinds of plays were rising in popularity at the time and it was a genre Shakespeare frequently used nearly a century earlier. In this instance the expression comes from Henry VIII a different play that centers on the instabilities of another royal court. Only this one dates from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The Bard's intentions are to portray the warning signs of far-ranging consequences of infighting among the members of the court. One historian says, "The king of Shakespeare's day, James I, was a direct descendent of the royal family in this play. The merging of romance and history provides the suggestion that fate or providence helped to determine the unfolding of English history of the previous century."

In the fourth act Queen Katherine is being divorce from Henry VIII and discovers Cardinal Wolsey has schemed against her for political reasons. Angry, she swears him as her enemy. The Cardinal is put to death for his plans and hearing of his demise Katherine speaks out against him again and her attendant Griffith observes:

Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues
We write in water.

(and more at this link: http://everything2.com/node/141497)

stan

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