Victor Hugo? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am authoring a book that discusses marble, and I’ve found an apposite quotation ascribed to the French literary titan Victor Hugo author of “Les Misérables” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. He employed antimetabole while comparing marble to human flesh. I have not been able to find solid citations in French or English. Would you be willing to help?
Quote Investigator: When Victor Hugo died in 1885 he left his heirs with a bulky copy-book entitled “Post-Scriptum de Ma Vie” (“A Postscript to My Life”). In 1901 a posthumous book emerged, and one section contained a collection of brief miscellaneous thoughts. Here were four in the original French. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Eh mon Dieu! la beauté est diverse. Selon la nature et selon l’art. Si c’est une femme, que la chair soit du marbre, si c’est une statue, que le marbre soit de la chair.
Les méchants envient et haïssent; c’est leur manière d’admirer.
Le savant sait qu’il ignore.
En poussant l’aiguille du cadran vous ne ferez pas avancer l’heure.
Publication of an English translation occurred in 1907 under the title “Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography: Being the Last of the Unpublished Works and Embodying the Author’s Ideas on Literature, Philosophy and Religion”. Here were the four thoughts above rendered in English: 2
Dear God! how beauty varies in nature and art. In a woman the flesh must be like marble; in a statue the marble must be like flesh.
The wicked envy and hate; it is their way of admiring.
The learned man knows that he is ignorant.
By putting forward the hands of the clock you shall not advance the hour.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1901, Post-Scriptum de Ma Vie by Victor Hugo, Quote Page 30, Calmann Lévy, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1907, Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography (Postscriptum de Ma Vie): Being the Last of the Unpublished Works and Embodying the Author’s Ideas on Literature, Philosophy and Religion, Translated by Lorenzo O’Rourke, Chapter: Thoughts, Quote Page 359 and 360, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩