"A certain guest at a banquet removed some flies from the mixing-bowl before he drank. When he had had his drink he put the flies back. He explained, 'I do not like flies; but then, I do not know - some of you may like them.'"
Rather. Sir Thomas More cracked it early in the 16th century. Presumably, he made it up, although he had a large, jolly family and some kid could have brought it home. One might also wonder about his insult jokes: "If you were as light on your feet as you are in the head, you could outrun a rabbit on level ground."
This is, after all, the same Sir Thomas More who chose to be executed rather than go along with a political/religious maneuver that was convenient to his patron, friend and king, Henry VIII. Historically, we remember him as the thin-faced idealist who refused to countenance Henry's defiance of the church in the matter of the king's divorce and remarriage; Sir Thomas went to the scaffold because he was "the king's good servant, but God's first," and would not recognize Henry as head of the church.
But More, as you may remember, was "the man for all seasons," and wit and scholarship were as much a part of him as idealism. Small samples of many of these seasons are on display now at the Folger Shakespearean Library in an exhibit called "Sir Thomas More, the Man and His Age," which will be on until Labor Day.
The witticisms are from his collections of epigrams. Some of his own, others are translated from Greek or Latin. He also wrote poetry, political essays, history: There are copies displayed of his biography of Richard III, with versions he wrote at the same time in English and in Latin.
There are samples of the tributes of his friends, including the "man for all seasons" source that was used, in modern times, for the play and film about his life. This is from a Latin grammar in which a description of More is given in English and Latin as an exercise. And there is his friend Erasmus' book, "The Praise of Folly," written at More's house, with a title that puns on his name, "moria." being Greek for "folly."
A contemporary play called "Sir Thomas More" is shown open to the passages that scholars think may possibly have been written by Shakespeare. The manuscript of the play was in seven different handwritings, and one of them has tentatively been identified as Shakespeare's.
Among the documents connected with the circumstances of his life is abook of love letters that Henry VIII wrote to Anne Boleyn before their controversial marriage. As that powerful king complains in page after page that she doesn't come to court enough that he never sees her, that she never even writes, it becomes apparent that the lady was either genuinely reluctant or playing hard to get, which may explain why the Man of All Seasons' advice had little influence during the mating season.