Chance, Coincidence, Miracles, Pseudonyms, and God

Albert Einstein? Théophile Gautier? Alexis de Valon? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Helena Blavatsky? Dr. Paul F.? Heidi Quade? Bonnie Farmer? Charlotte C. Taylor? Doris Lessing? Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole?

chance10Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is attributed to the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein:

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

I have been unable to find any solid information to support this ascription. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type. It is not listed in the comprehensive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

This topic is large, complex, and tangled. QI believes that the remark evolved from a family of interrelated sayings that can be traced back many years. These sayings did not have the same meaning, but QI believes that the earlier statements influenced the emergence of the later statements.

Below is a summary list with dates of the pertinent quotations. The shared theme was an examination of the connections between chance, coincidence, Providence, and God. The term “Providence” refers to the guardianship and care provided by God, a deity, or nature viewed as a spiritual force. Statements in French are accompanied with a translation.

1777: What is called chance is the instrument of Providence. (Horace Walpole)

1795: Quelqu’un disait que la Providence était le nom de baptême du Hasard, quelque dévot dira que le Hasard est un sobriquet de la Providence. (Nicolas Chamfort) [Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.]

1845: Le hasard, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer. (Théophile Gautier) [Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not want to sign.]

1897: Il faut, dans la vie, faire la part du hasard. Le hasard, en définitive, c’est Dieu. (Anatole France) [In life we must make all due allowance for chance. Chance, in the last resort, is God.]

1949: Chance is the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign. (misattribution: Anatole France)

1976: He defined coincidence as a miracle in which God chose to remain anonymous. (Dr. Paul F. of Indianapolis, Indiana)

1979: A coincidence is a small miracle where God chose to remain anonymous. (Anonymous in “Shop with Sue”)

1984: A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Heidi Quade)

1985: Coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Bonnie Farmer)

1986: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (Charlotte Clemensen Taylor)

1997: Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. (attribution: Doris Lessing)

2000: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (misattribution: Albert Einstein)

Details for these statements together with additional selected citations in chronological order are given below.

The citation dated 1777 from Horace Walpole, and the citation dated 1795 from Nicolas Chamfort were explored extensively in a separate entry on this website. Here is the title of the entry which is a clickable link: Chance Is the Nickname of Providence. The motivated reader is encouraged to read the linked material which will not be repeated here.

In 1845 “La Croix de Berny: Roman Steeple-Chase” was published by a set of four authors that included the French literary figure Théophile Gautier. An Introductory note stated that missives within the work ascribed to the name Edgard de Meilhan were actually written by Gautier. Hence, the following passage was by Gautier. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Vous auriez tort de vouloir forcer la main au hasard; laissez-le agir, il sait bien mieux que vous ce qu’il vous faut.—Le hasard, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer.

The expression in bold face can be translated into English as follows: Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not want to sign. In other words, “chance” is used to describe situations in which God does not wish to unambiguously avow his actions.

This expression attracted the attention of another French writer named Alexis de Valon. In 1847 he wrote an essay about an extraordinary Spanish historical figure of the 1600s who trained to become a nun and later became a Lieutenant. The statement about chance was reprinted, but the words were ascribed to an unknown person: “quelqu’un” or “someone”. 3 4

Le hasard, a dit quelqu’un, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer.

In May 1847 the writer Thomas de Quincey moved the quotation into the world of English discourse with an article he wrote in “Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine” titled “The Nautico-Military Nun of Spain”. The words were attributed to an unnamed “Frenchman”: 5 6

Or, as a Frenchman says with eloquent ingenuity, in connexion with this story, “chance is but the pseudonyme of God for those particular cases which he does not subscribe openly with his own sign manual.”

The term “sign manual” refers to a personal signature, especially a royal signature. For example, an official document or an executive act from a sovereign might have a sign manual.

In 1855 an extensively footnoted work analyzing Francis Bacon’s philosophical tome “Novum Organum” was published. The footnote for the Latin word “fortuna” included an instance of the saying about chance. Quotation marks enclosed the statement, but no ascription was given: 7

“Fortune” “Chance is but the pseudonyme of God for those particular cases which he does not choose to subscribe openly with his own sign-manual” . . .

In 1856 a compilation titled “A Book for Spare Moments: The Urn and the Page” was published and the words of De Quincey were recalled: 8

WHAT IS CHANCE.
Chance is but the pseudonym of God for those particular cases which he does not choose to subscribe openly with his own sign-manual.
Quoted by De Quincey as the saying of an “eloquent Frenchman.”

In 1862 a compilation titled “Many Thoughts of Many Minds: Being A Treasury of Reference” was published. The prominent poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was attached to the saying. QI has located no substantive support for this ascription to the well-known versifier who had died many years earlier in 1834. 9

CHANCE—Characteristics of.
Chance is but the pseudonyme of God for those particular cases which He does not choose to subscribe openly with His own sign-manual. Coleridge.

The linkage to Coleridge has persisted for many years. In 1886 the collection “Edge-Tools of Speech” included a quotation matching the one above that was attributed to Coleridge. 10

Chance is but the pseudonyme of God for those particular cases which he does not choose to subscribe openly with his own sign-manual.
Coleridge.

In 1888 “The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy” by the influential Theosophist Helena Blavatsky was published. She also credited Coleridge with an instance of the saying: 11

There is no “chance” in Nature, wherein everything is mathematically co-ordinate and mutually related in its units. “Chance,” says Coleridge, “is but the pseudonym of God (or Nature), for those particular cases which He does not choose to subscribe openly with His sign manual.” Replace the word “God” by that of Karma and it will become an Eastern axiom.

In 1895 “Le Jardin d’Épicure” by Anatole France was published, and in 1922 an English translation was released under the title “The Garden of Epicurus”. The following statement about chance and God was included in the work: 12 13

1895: Il faut, dans la vie, faire la part du hasard. Le hasard, en définitive, c’est Dieu.

1922: In life we must make all due allowance for chance. Chance, in the last resort, is God.

This above statement by Anatole France was clearly distinct from the remark of Théophile Gautier. Nevertheless, during the ensuing decades confusion surfaced, and the words of Gautier have sometimes been assigned to Anatole France.

For example, a compilation published in 1923 titled “Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations” contained a difficult to interpret entry that presented Gautier’s words but only listed Anatole France’s name: 14

Le hasard c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer.
Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign.
Anatole France—Le Jardin d’Epicure.
P. 132. Quoted “Le hasard, en definitive, c’est Dieu.”

In 1949 “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations” edited by Evan Esar attributed a concise version Théophile Gautier’s saying to Anatole France: 15

FRANCE, Anatole, 1844-1924, pen name of Jacques Anatole Thibault, French novelist and critic.
Chance is the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign.

In 1952 the newspaper columnist Franklin Pierce Adams published the “FPA Book of Quotations”, and he also misattributed Gautier’s quotation to Anatole France. The citation specified “Le Jardin d’Epicure”, but the quotation was absent from this book: 16

Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign.
—-ANATOLE FRANCE (1844-1924) Le Jardin d’Epicure

The 1968 edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” contained an entry very similar to the one above with the quotation misattributed to Anatole France. 17

In 1976 a newspaper in Florence, Alabama reported on a speech given at a local chapter meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. The speaker was Dr. Paul F. of Indianapolis, Indiana. The last name was specified with only an initial. Paul F. used the words “coincidence” and “miracle” in the adage he communicated to listeners. This was the earliest instance found by QI that contained those words: 18

He defined coincidence as a miracle in which God chose to remain anonymous. One who watches for God in “coincidences” finds sustaining faith in many ways.

In 1979 the “Spokane Daily Chronicle” of Spokane, Washington printed an advertisement section called “Shop with Sue”. The following adage containing the phrase “small miracle” was used as a filler item. No attribution was given: 19

A coincidence is a small miracle where God chose to remain anonymous.

In 1984 the “Ocala Star-Banner” of Ocala, Florida published a story about a local man who had compiled a book of quotations. Several examples of sayings in the book were printed in the article. The two contiguous quotations below were listed. The adage with “coincidence” and “small miracle” was ascribed to someone named Heidi Quade. 20

“I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” Albert Einstein.
“A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous.” Heidi Quade.

In the text above, the first quotation was attributed to Albert Einstein; hence, his name was adjacent to the quotation with “coincidence”. One important mechanism for generating misattributions is based on the misreading of neighboring quotations. A reader sometimes inadvertently transfers the ascription of one quote to a contiguous quote. But QI does not know whether this text contributed to the misattribution. It might be completely unrelated.

In 1985 “The Galveston Daily News” of Galveston, Texas printed an advertisement that included the following statement and ascription: 21

“Coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous.”
Bonnie Farmer

In 1986 the Associated Press news service produced an article about an attempt to establish a religious retreat in Nebraska. A woman named Charlotte Clemensen Taylor offered the use of her family farm for private prayer and meditation. Taylor spoke a concise version of the adage that exactly matched the phrase that initiated this intriguing exploration: 22

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” says Mrs. Taylor, who at 74 devotes much of her time to getting the monastery ready for the first novices.

In 1997 the book “Small Miracles: Extraordinary Coincidences from Everyday Life” printed an instance of the saying and credited the Nobel Prize winning author Doris Lessing: 23

“Coincidences,” the writer Doris Lessing once said, “are God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Small Miracles attempts to strip away that facade of anonymity, and demonstrate that these seemingly random moments are instead the full and vital expressions of God’s handiwork.

In 2000 the following collection was published: “What Every Principal Would Like to Say . . . and What to Say Next Time: Quotations for Leading, Learning, and Living” by Noah benShea. The author ascribed the adage to the luminary Albert Einstein: 24

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.
— Albert Einstein

In conclusion, Albert Einstein was first linked to the quotation under examination many years after his death. There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever employed the saying.

Precursors circulated for a long period of time before the modern statement containing the word “coincidence” emerged. The 1845 statement written by Théophile Gautier was particularly interesting.

Image Notes: Green possibility sign from geralt at Pixabay. The sign has been modified by QI. Red dice by caro_oe92 at Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Fred Small and Richard Turner whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Richard Turner shared his wonderful research on this topic. He had located attributions for Albert Einstein and Doris Lessing together with precursor attributions for Théophile Gautier, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and others. Special thanks to Jesse Mazer for his valuable work tracing Einstein attributions at Wikiquote. This is the second of two entries. The first entry is here.)

Update History: On April 21, 2015 the 1997 citation for Doris Lessing was added.

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)
  2. Year: 1855 (Originally published in 1845), Title: La Croix de Berny: Roman Steeple-Chase, Authors: Mme. Émile de Girardin, Théophile Gautier, Jules Sandeau, Joseph Méry, Letter 3, Start Page 26, Quote Page 28, Final Page 38, Publisher: Librairie Nouvelle, Paris, (Google Books Full View) link
  3. Year: 1847, Title: La Revue des Deux Mondes, Volume 17, Article: Catalina de Erauso, Article author: Alexis de Valon, Start Page 589, Quote Page 602, Final Page 637, Publisher: Au Bureau de La Revue des Deux Mondes, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. Year: 1847, Title: Bibliothèque Choisie: Des Meilleures Productions de la Littérature Française Contemporaine, Series 6, Volume 1, Article: Catalina de Erauso, Article author: Alexis de Valon, Start Page 206, Quote Page 220, Publisher: Charles Turati Imprimeur-Libraire, Milan. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1847 May, Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 14, The Nautico-Military Nun of Spain by Thomas de Quincey, Start Page 324, Quote Page 328 and 329, Published by Sutherland & Knox, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom.(Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1847 August, The Eclectic Magazine: Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 11, Catalina de Erauso: The Nautico-Military Nun of Spain by Thomas de Quincey, (Acknowledgement: “From Tait’s Magazine”), Start Page 483, Quote Page 489, Published by Editor and Proprietor W. H. Bidwell, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  7. Year: 1855, Title: Novum Organum: sive, Indicia Vera de Interpretatione Naturae, Edited with English Notes by the Rev. G. W. Kitchin, (Student and Tutor of Christ Church, Oxford), Footnote 84, Quote Page 36, Published by: Oxonii: E Typographeo Academico. (Google Books Full View) link
  8. Year: 1856, Title: A Book for Spare Moments: The Urn and the Page, Author: Harvey Buckland, Entry: What Is Chance, Quote Page 147, Publisher: James Hogg, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom. (Google Books Full View) link
  9. Year: 1862 (MDCCCLXII), Title: Many Thoughts of Many Minds: Being A Treasury of Reference, Compiler and Editor: Henry Southgate, Entry: Chance, Quote Page 81, Publisher: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  10. Year: 1886, Title: Edge-Tools of Speech, Editor: Maturin M. Ballou (Maturin Murray Ballou), Quote Page 61, Column 2, Publisher: Ticknor and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  11. Year: 1888, Title: The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, Volume: 1 – Cosmogenesis, Author: H. P. Blavatsky (Helena Petrovna Blavatsky), Quote Page 653, Publisher: Theosophical Publishing Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  12. Year: 1897 (Originally published in 1895), Title: Le Jardin d’Épicure, Author: Anatole France, Quote Page 132, Publisher: Calmann Lévy, Paris (14th Edition), (HathiTrust Full View) link
  13. Year: 1922 Copyright (1924 Printing), Title: The Garden of Epicurus, Author: Anatole France, Translator from French to English: Alfred Allinson, Description: Translation of Le Jardin d’Epicure, Quote Page 103, Publisher: Dodd, Mead and Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  14. Year: 1923 (Copyright 1922), Title: Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations, Editor: Kate Louise Roberts, Quote Page 92, Column 2, Publisher: Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York (Google Books Full View) link
  15. 1949, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: Anatole France, Quote Page 75, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1989 reprint edition from Dorset Press, New York)
  16. 1952, FPA Book of Quotations, Selected by Franklin Pierce Adams, Section: God, Quote Page 137, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  17. 1968, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, Edited by Emily Morison Beck, Fourteenth Edition, Section: Anatole France, Quote Page 802, Column a, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  18. 1976 March 27, Florence Times Tri-Cities Daily (Times Daily), Section: Area Church News, Faith Is Balance For Life by Lucille Prince (Times-Daily Writer), Quote Page 12, Column 3, Florence, Alabama. (Google News Archive)
  19. 1979 November 15, Spokane Daily Chronicle, (Advertisement section titled “Shop with Sue”; quotation appeared as filler item), Quote Page 9, Column 3, Spokane, Washington. (Google News Archive)
  20. 1984 August 3, Ocala Star-Banner, Local Man’s Hobby of Collecting Quotes Used In His Theme Books by Becky Watson (Assistant Lifestyles Editor), Quote Page 4C, Column 3, Ocala, Florida. (Google News Archive)
  21. 1985 May 1, The Galveston Daily News, (Advertisement in the form of a calendar with one quotation for each day; Quotation for May 31. Advertisement sponsor: Galveston County Mental Health Association), Quote Page 19A, Galveston, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  22. 1986 January 10, The Salina Journal, Former chaplain working to found first new order of monks in 700 years (Continuation title: Monk), (Associated Press) Start Page, N4, Quote Page N5, Salina, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  23. 1997, Small Miracles: Extraordinary Coincidences from Everyday Life by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page xi, Published by Adams Media Corporation, Holbrook, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  24. 2000, What Every Principal Would Like to Say . . . and What to Say Next Time: Quotations for Leading, Learning, and Living by Noah benShea, Quote Page 94, Corwin Press: A Sage Publications Company, Thousand Oaks, California. (Google Books Preview)