Tag Archives: Nicolas Chamfort

One Would Risk Being Disgusted If One Saw Politics, Justice, or One’s Dinner in the Making

Nicolas Chamfort? Marchand? Anonymous?

chamfort08Dear Quote Investigator: You have previously examined a well-known comment comparing the construction of laws and sausages:

Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.

I believe that a similar remark was made earlier by the Frenchman Nicolas Chamfort comparing justice and meals, but I have not been able to find a citation. Are you familiar with his statement? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The French writer Nicolas Chamfort was a famous wit and epigrammatist who socialized with the aristocracy but supported the French Revolution. He died in 1794 and several collections of anecdotes and aphorisms were published posthumously. In 1798 the periodical “L’Esprit des Journaux” printed material from Chamfort’s pen that included the following item: 1

Un certain Marchand, avocat, homme d’esprit, disait: On court les risques du dégoût en voyant comment l’administration, la justice & la cuisine se préparent.

Here are two possible translations into English:

A clever lawyer named Marchand used to say, “It can be disgusting to see what goes into public administration, justice, and food.”

A certain witty advocate, Marchand, observed: “One would risk being disgusted if one saw politics, justice, and one’s dinner in the making.”

Interestingly, Chamfort disclaimed credit, but his name has remained firmly attached to the saying because of his long-lived fame.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. Year: 1798 (Prairial, an 6 de la République Française), Periodical: “L’Esprit des Journaux, Français et Étrangers”, Organization: Par une Société de gens-de-lettres, Volume 6, Article: “Anecdotes & pensées inédites de feu Chamfort, de l’académie française”, Start Page 170, Quote Page 173, Valade, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

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.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)

Chance Is the Nickname of Providence

Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole? Anonymous?

chnace08Dear Quote Investigator: The relationships between chance, luck, fate, and providence are often disputed. One viewpoint holds that no event occurs at random; instead, there is an underlying purpose or design though it may be hidden or opaque. Here is an adage encapsulating that thought:

Chance is the nickname of Providence.

Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: A precursor to the adage appeared in a 1777 letter written by Horace Walpole who was pioneer of gothic literature and a notable historian of art. The letter was addressed to the Countess of Ossory, and it was published by 1848. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . what is called chance is the instrument of Providence and the secret agent that counteracts what men call wisdom, and preserves order and regularity, and continuation in the whole . . .

The earliest evidence of a strong match known to QI was from the pen of the famous French epigrammatist Nicolas Chamfort who died in 1794. A collection of his works was published in 1795 that included a set of “Maximes et Pensées” (Maxims and Thoughts) containing the following two-part statement: 2

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.

Here was one possible translation into English:

Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.

Chamfort’s complex remark intertwined and counterposed teleology, theology, probability, and contingency.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1848, Letters Addressed to the Countess of Ossory from the Year 1769 to 1797 by Horace Walpole (Lord Orford), Edited with Notes by R. Vernon Smith, Volume 1, Letter number 101, Letter from Horace Walpole, Letter to Countess of Ossory, Date: January 19, 1777, Start Page 262, Quote Page 262, Published by Richard Bentley, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Date: L’an 3 de la République (Third year of the Republic overlapped 1794 and 1795), Title: Oeuvres de Chamfort (Works of Nicolas Chamfort), Publisher: Recueillies et publiées par un de ses Amis (Collected and published by one of his friends), Volume: Tome IV (Volume 4), Section: Maximes et Pensées: Maximes générales, Quote Page 34, Publishing location: A PARIS Chez le Directeur de l’Imprimerie des Sciences et Arts, rue Thérèse (Published in Paris). (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

A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted

Charlie Chaplin? Steve Martin? Groucho Marx? Nicolas Chamfort?

chaplinchamfort04Dear Quote Investigator: The following guideline for living makes sense to me, so I try to find humor in something every day:

A day without laughter is a day wasted

When I read this maxim originally it was credited to Charlie Chaplin, but I once heard it attributed to Groucho Marx. Do you know who said it and on what occasion?

Quote Investigator: This principle is sometimes credited to popular comedic entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, but the idea was expressed more than two centuries ago. The French writer Nicolas Chamfort was famous for his witticisms and epigrams. In 1795 the periodical Mercure Français reprinted the following saying from one of his manuscripts [MFNC]:

La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l’on n’a pas ri.

The earliest instance of this aphorism in the English language located by QI is dated 1803 in a periodical titled “Flowers of Literature” in a section titled “Laughing” [FLFB]:

I admire the man who exclaimed, “I have lost a day!” because he had neglected to do any good in the course of it; but another has observed that “the most lost of all days, is that in which we have not laughed*;” and, I must confess, that I feel myself greatly of his opinion.

The asterisk footnote pointed to the bottom of the page where the French phrase listed above was presented. The text did not identify Chamfort as the author of the saying, but it did give his precise French wording as the source of the English epigram.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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