Category Archives: Emile Zola

I Would Rather Die of Passion than of Boredom

Vincent van Gogh? Émile Zola? Apocryphal?

starry08Dear Quote Investigator: The famous Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh has been credited with the following fervent statement:

I would rather die of passion than of boredom.

Surprisingly, this remark has also been ascribed to the prominent French novelist Émile Zola. Would you please elucidate this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1883 Émile Zola wrote a novel that contained an instance of this saying in French. In October 1884 Vincent van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother Theo that included the quotation as part of a larger excerpt from Zola’s novel. Thus, both well-known figures employed the saying, but Zola was the originator.

In 1833 Émile Zola released “Au Bonheur des Dames” which has been given several different English titles: “The Ladies’ Paradise”, “The Ladies’ Delight”, and “The Shop Girls of Paris”. The book was part of an important and popular series of twenty novels called: Les Rougon-Macquart. The saying under examination was spoken by a character named Octave Mouret while he was conversing with a character named Paul Vallagnosc. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Agir, créer, se battre contre les faits, les vaincre ou être vaincu par eux, toute la joie et toute la santé humaines sont là!

— Simple façon de s’étourdir, murmura l’autre.

— Eh bien! j’aime mieux m’étourdir… Crever pour crever, je préfère crever de passion que de crever d’ennui!

Ils rirent tous les deux, cela leur rappelait leurs vieilles discussions du collège.

In 1883 a translation of Zola’s novel by Frank Belmont was published under the title “The Ladies’ Paradise”. The passage above was rendered as follows: 2

“To act, to create, to struggle against facts, to overcome them or be overthrown by them, all health, all human joy consists in that!”

“Simple method of diverting one’s self.”

“Well, I prefer diverting myself. Death against death, I would rather die of passion than of ennui!” They both laughed, this reminded them of their old discussions at college.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1833, Au Bonheur des Dames by Émile Zola, Series: Les Rougon-Macquart, (Reprint of Charpentier edition from 1833 released by Hachette, Paris in 1980), Published by G. Charpentier, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1883, The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola (Émile Édouard C.A. Zola), Volume 3 of 3, Translated by Frank Belmont, Quote Page 35, Tinsley Brothers, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Eat a Live Frog Every Morning, and Nothing Worse Will Happen to You the Rest of the Day

Mark Twain? Nicolas Chamfort? Émile Zola? Apocryphal?

chamforttoad01Dear Quote Investigator: There is a best-selling self-help book called “Eat That Frog!” that presents strategies to stop procrastination. The author discusses the meaning of the curious title in his introduction: 1

Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.

Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.

The author emphasizes the desirability of focusing on and accomplishing this salient task. While reading this slim volume I started to wonder about the quotation attributed to Twain. I could not find it on the twainquotes.com website. Did Twain really say this?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain spoke or wrote the expression about eating a live frog each morning.

QI believes that the statement evolved from a quotation written by a famously witty French writer named Nicolas Chamfort who socialized with the aristocracy but supported the French Revolution. Chamfort’s collected works were published in French in the 1790s, and a memorably caustic remark about high-society was included. The words were actually credited to a person named Mr. de Lassay who functioned as a mouthpiece for Chamfort. Here is the French version: 2

M. de Lassay, homme très-doux, mais qui avait une grande connaissance de la société, disait qu’il faudrait avaler un crapaud tous les matins, pour ne trouver plus rien de dégoûtant le reste de la journée, quand on devait la passer dans le monde.

In 1851 the expression moved into the English language when a group of essays called “Causeries Du Lundi” or “Monday Chats” were translated. One essay profiled Chamfort and included the quotation: 3

M. de Lassay, a very indulgent man, but with a great knowledge of society, said that we should swallow a toad every morning, in order to fortify ourselves against the disgust of the rest of the day, when we have to spend it in society.

Metaphorically, the consumption provided protection, inoculation, or habituation. The original root saying used the French word for toad, but the sayings in English that grew from the root used either toad or frog.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2007, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy, Second Edition, Section: Introduction, Quote Page 2, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, California. (Amazon Look Inside)
  2. Date: L’an 3 de la République (Third year of the Republic overlapped 1794 and 1795), Oeuvres de Chamfort (Works of Chamfort), Recueillies et publiées par un de ses Amis (Collected and published by one of his friends), Tome IV (Volume 4), Quote Page 335, A PARIS Chez le Directeur de l’Imprimerie des Sciences et Arts, rue Thérèse (Published in Paris).  (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1851, Causeries Du Lundi (Monday Chats) by C. A. Sainte-Beuve (Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve), Volume 7, (July 1851 to September 1851), Translated by E. J. Trechmann, Chamfort (Article dated September 22, 1851), Start Page 180, Quote Page 192, George Routledge & Sons, London, E. P. Dutton & Co., New York. (Google Books full view) link