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Kicking Against the Pricks

In response to:

Sir Richard and Ruffian Dick from the April 16, 1964 issue

To the Editors:

In Mr. Dupee’s interesting article on Richard Burton in the April 16 issue of The New York Review he says that the phrase “kicking against the pricks” is Burton’s, meaning, presumably, that he coined it. I doubt it. At least the phrase appeared in English literature about 200-250 years before Burton used it. I cannot give you the name of the author; he was one of a now-virtually-anonymous group of top literary talents—the translators of the King James version of the Bible. In the Book of Acts no less a personage than Jesus, in Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, is quoted as saying to Paul: “it is hard to thee to kick against the pricks.” (Ch. 9, v.5.) Religion aside, it is too bad that the King James translation is ignored as a grand work of English literature. Many fine stylists of an earlier time benefited from it—Abraham Lincoln being an example frequently mentioned. There is much dignity and beauty in it.

William W. Stafford

Piermont, N.Y.

F.W Dupee replies:

Thanks to Mr. Stafford and other readers of the Review for pointing out to me that my ambiguous phrasing made Burton the inventor of the proverbial expression, “kicking against the pricks.”

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