The Purpose of Life Is To Be Defeated by Greater and Greater Things

Rainer Maria Rilke? Tim O’Reilly? Louise Bogan? Robert Bly? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A recent book by technology guru and computer book publisher Tim O’Reilly contained the following appeal: 1

Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off for you having tried.

O’Reilly illustrated this idea by referring to a resonant poem by Rainer Maria Rilke based on an episode from the Book of Genesis. Jacob wrestled with a transcendent angelic figure and was defeated, but he was also strengthened. O’Reilly offered the following compressed reading of the poem:

What we fight with is so small, and when we win, it makes us small. What we want is to be defeated, decisively, by successively greater things.

Would you please help me to find this piece by Rilke?

Quote Investigator: In 1901 the monthly journal “Deutsche Arbeit” (“German Labor”) published a work by Rainer Maria Rilke under the title “Gedicht” (“Poem”). The following was the final verse. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Wen dieser Engel überwand,
Welcher so oft auf Kampf verzichtet,
Der geht gerecht und aufgerichtet
Und groß aus seiner harten Hand,
Die sich, wie formend, an ihn schmiegte.
Die Siege laden ihn nicht ein;
Sein Wachstum ist: Der Tiefbesiegte
Von immer Größerem zu sein.

The poem was translated by poet Robert Bly in 1981, and these were the last three lines: 3

Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2017, WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us by Tim O’Reilly, Chapter 16: Work on Stuff That Matters, Quote Page 352 and 353, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Amazon Look Inside)
  2. 1901 October, Deutsche Arbeit: Monatichrift sür das geistige Leben der Deutichen in Böhmen, (German Labor: Monthly for the Spiritual Life of the Germans in Bohemia), Volume 1, Gedicht (Poem) by Rainer Maria Rilke, Start Page 19, Quote Page 20, Verlag von Georg D. W. Callwey in München, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 2001, Who Lives Better Than We Do? Poems by Reggie Marra, Epigraph on title page, (Acknowledgement to “The Man Watching” of “Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke”, edited and translated by Robert Bly, 1981), From the Heart Press: An Imprint of Integral Journeys for Pilgrims, Poets, Fools and Saints, New Milford, Connecticut. (Google Books Preview)

Between Stimulus and Response There Is a Space. In That Space Is Our Power To Choose Our Response

Viktor E. Frankl? Stephen R. Covey? Thomas Walton Galloway? Sheldon P. Stoff? B. F. Skinner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is possible to control ones reactions and feelings even when one is faced with frightening hardships. The psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl has been credited with the following:

Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

I doubt this ascription because no one provides a proper citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to find this passage in the works of Viktor E. Frankl.

Instead, the words were popularized by the influential motivational author Stephen R. Covey; however, he disclaimed authorship. Covey stated that he read the passage in a book while he was on sabbatical in Hawaii, but he was unable to recall the name of the book or the author. Also, the precise phrasing employed by Covey varied over time. Details are given further below.

An interesting thematic precursor appeared in the 1917 book “The Use of Motives in Teaching Morals and Religion” by Thomas Walton Galloway. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Personality has three main parts: (1) the receiving portion (receptors) that looks out on stimuli (attention and appreciation are its great functions); (2) a responding side (effectors) that looks toward behavior or response; and (3) that which lies between stimulus and response whose function is to correlate and adjust behavior to stimulus. This third region is where our real personal values lie. This is where we grow most.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1917 Copyright, The Use of Motives in Teaching Morals and Religion by Thomas Walton Galloway (Professor of Zoology, Beloit College), Chapter 3: Some Essential Natural Elements in Education, Discussion of Figure 3, Quote Page 40, The Pilgrim Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link

I Believe I Would Take the Fire

Jean Cocteau? André Fraigneau? Harold Acton? Ned Rorem? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A top literary figure whose home was packed with valuable manuscripts and art objects was once asked to choose a favorite item. A vivid and heartbreaking scenario was proposed by an interviewer. The reply described the perfect salvation:

Suppose flames were consuming your home and time was precious. What one thing would you carry away?

I would carry away the fire.

The discourse above is approximate because I do not recall the exact phrases. Taking the fire would save the valuable items. In addition, the action alludes to Promethean inspiration. Would you please help me to identify the interview participants and a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1951 André Fraigneau conducted a series of radio interviews with Jean Cocteau. Transcripts of the discussion were published in 1965 and again in 1988 in a volume titled “Entretiens: Jean Cocteau et André Fraigneau”. Here is an excerpt from the French dialog. Emphasis added by QI: 1

André Fraigneau. — Parmi ces objets il y en a bien certains auxquels vous tenez particulièrement? Si par exemple, je ne sais pas, enfin, s’il y avait le feu chez vous, quel est l’objet que vous préféreriez et que vous emporteriez ?

Jean Cocteau. — S’il y avait le feu chez moi ?

André Fraigneau. — Oui.

Jean Cocteau. — Je crois que j’emporterais le feu.

Here is one possible English translation of the dialog:

André Fraigneau. — Among these objects there must be some that you are particularly attached to? If, for example, I don’t know, well, if there was a fire in your home, which object would you prefer, which object would you take with you?

Jean Cocteau. — If there was a fire in my home?

André Fraigneau. — Yes.

Jean Cocteau. — I believe I would take the fire.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1988,Title: Entretiens: Jean Cocteau et André Fraigneau, Authors: Jean Cocteau & André Fraigneau, Editeur: Jean-Paul Bertrand, Collection: Alphée, Description: Interviews of Jean Cocteau conducted by André Fraigneau; front flap of dust jacket states interviews were broadcast January 26 to March 28, 1951, Quote Page 80 and 81, Publisher: Editions du Rocher, Le Rocher, Monaco. (Verified with scans; thanks to Claire Lauper in Paris)

Let Them Know the Truth, and the Country Is Safe

Abraham Lincoln? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Newseum is a museum in Washington, D.C. featuring exhibits about the history of communication, the news industry, and free expression. A powerful quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln is engraved into one of its walls:

Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.

I have been unable to locate a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the “Boston Morning Journal” of Boston, Massachusetts on April 17, 1865 a couple days after Lincoln’s death on April 15th. A letter writer identified as “E. K.” reported that he had spoken to Lincoln in July 1864, and E. K. presented remarks he ascribed to Lincoln. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Many of his best friends had deserted him, and were talking of an opposition convention to nominate another candidate; and universal gloom was among the people. The North was tired of the war, and supposed an honorable peace attainable, Mr. Lincoln knew it was not—that any peace at that time would be only disunion. Speaking of it, he said: “I have faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is, they are misled. Let them know the truth, and the country is safe.”

QI hypothesizes that the modern quotation evolved from the statement above. Here is a list of variant expressions together with citation dates:

1865: Let them know the truth, and the country is safe.
1907: Let the people know the truth, and the country is safe.
1920: Let the people know the truth and the country will be safe.
1944: Let the people know the facts and the country will be saved.
1969: Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.

The list above represents a snapshot of current findings, and earlier citations for variants may be uncovered by future researchers. Additional details appear below in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1865 April 17, Boston Morning Journal, The Death of President Lincoln, Message to the Editor of The Boston Journal, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans of microfilm from Boston Public Library)

The Single Most Important Fact, Perhaps, of the Entire Movie Industry: Nobody Knows Anything

William Goldman? Will Rogers? Kevin Smith? Gus Van Sant? Robert Towne? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Predicting the box office success of a forthcoming movie is apparently impossible. It is also difficult to anticipate the critical response. These challenges are encapsulated in a Hollywood adage of exasperation:

Nobody knows anything.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: William Goldman wrote the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Stepford Wives (1975), All the President’s Men (1976), Marathon Man (1976), The Princess Bride (1987) and other significant films. In 1983 he published “Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting” which included the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The “go” decision is the ultimate importance of the studio executive. They are responsible for what gets up there on the silver screen. Compounding their problem of no job security in the decision-making process is the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

Interestingly, the famous humorist Will Rogers who suffered financial setbacks in the film world made a similar observation in a 1928 essay that was reprinted in his autobiography: 2

I can’t write about the movies for I don’t know anything about them, and I don’t think anybody else knows anything about them.

It’s the only business in the world that nobody knows anything about. Being in them don’t give any more of an inkling about them than being out of them.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1983, Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting by William Goldman, Chapter One: The Powers That Be, Quote Page 39, Warner Books, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1949, Autobiography of Will Rogers, Selected and Edited by Donald Day, Chapter 13: It’ll Take Two Generations to Sweep Up the Dirt, (The passage appeared between entries dated September 2 and September 6, 1928), Quote Page 184, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)

The Future Belongs to Those Who Believe in the Beauty of Their Dreams

Eleanor Roosevelt? Addie Philko? Thomas Malory? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular motivational statement has been attributed to the social activist and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

I have been unable to find a solid citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Prominent researchers such as Ralph Keyes, 1 Fred R. Shapiro, 2 and Barry Popik 3 have been unable to find a substantive link to Eleanor Roosevelt who died in 1962.

The earliest strong match located by QI occurred in 1978 within a classified advertisement published in “The Surrey Leader” of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 4

Do your dreams for the future get put off year after year? Let us show you our exciting business you run from your home to give you the income to make these dreams a reality. The future belongs to those who have the courage to believe in the beauty of their dreams.

The expression above mentioned “courage” and was slightly more complicated than the target quotation. The ad copy writer was unidentified, and QI hypothesizes that the statement was already in circulation in 1978 without attribution. The modern saying was credited to Eleanor Roosevelt by 1986 as shown in the citation listed further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 97-98 and 298, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Eleanor Roosevelt, Quote Page 644, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”, Date on website: December 04, 2012, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik.com on February 10, 2018) link
  4. 1978 March 15, The Surrey Leader, Classified Ads: Help Wanted, Quote Page 10, Column 5, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com)

The Eye Sees Only What the Mind Is Prepared To Comprehend

Henri Bergson? Robertson Davies? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Thomas Carlyle? Anais Nin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One might see a duck when looking at the famous ambiguous image above, or one might see a rabbit. Perceiving one animal partially blocks the recognition of the other animal, and mental effort is required to switch one’s viewpoint. The influential French philosopher Henri Bergson and the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies have both been credited with a germane remark:

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

Would you please explore the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found any substantive evidence linking the quotation to Henri Bergson who died in 1941.

An exact match occurred in the 1951 novel “Tempest-Tost” by Robertson Davies. One of the primary characters in the book observed two young lovers. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

At some distance from the path, under the trees, was a bench, and upon it were a boy and girl in a close embrace. Ordinarily Hector would not have noticed them, for the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. He saw them now; Hector the actor, rather than Hector the teacher of mathematics took note of what they were doing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1980 (Copyright 1951), Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies, Chapter 3, Quote Page 116, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. (Verified with scans)

In Every Object There Is Inexhaustible Meaning. The Eye Sees In It What the Eye Brings Means of Seeing

Thomas Carlyle? Patrick Geddes? Robertson Davies? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you interpret a visual scene your grasp is limited by your knowledge and preconceptions. The eye can only see what it is prepared to see. The Scottish philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle said something similar to this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Thomas Carlyle published “The French Revolution: A History” in 1837. He employed a matching comment, but he did not take credit for the cogent saying. The phrase “it is well said” meant that the creator was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For indeed it is well said, ‘in every object there is inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of seeing.’ To Newton and to Newton’s Dog Diamond, what a different pair of Universes; while the painting on the optical retina of both was, most likely, the same!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1838, The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle, Volume 1: The Bastille, Book 1: Death of Louis XV, Chapter 2: Realised Ideals, Quote Page 5, Charles C. Little and James Brown, Boston, Massachusetts. (An earlier edition appeared in 1837)(Google Books Full View) link

One Sees What One Carries In One’s Own Heart

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Anais Nin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During a Rorschach test a patient is shown a series of ambiguous inkblots and his or her reactions and interpretations are recorded. This assessment reminds me of an adage. Here are two versions:

  • You see in the world what you carry in your heart.
  • They will see what they carry in their own heart.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: There is a strong match in the work “Faust” by the major German literary figure Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The dramatic poem begins with a prelude scene featuring a director, a poet, and a comedian. The following excerpt is an English prose translation of German verses spoken by the comedian. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Then assembles youth’s fairest flower to see your play, and listens to the revelation. Then every gentle mind sucks melancholy nourishment for itself from out your work; then one while this, and one while that, is stirred up; each one sees what he carries in his heart.

“Faust Part One” was published in 1808. The translation above from A. Hayward appeared in 1851.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1851, Faust: A Dramatic Poem by Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), Translation by A. Hayward, Third Edition, Prologue for the Theatre, Speaker: Merryman, Quote Page 33, Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

The Secret of Getting Ahead Is Getting Started

Mark Twain? Agatha Christie? Sally Berger? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: To overcome procrastination one must initiate a task. Although this is straightforward advice it is an arcane approach according to the following adage:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

The famed humorist Mark Twain and the popular mystery writer Agatha Christie have both received credit for his formula. Yet, I have not found any solid citations. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 a partial match occurred within a newspaper advertisement for a bank in Coshocton, Ohio which was encouraging readers to open an account and start saving money. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Half the game of getting ahead is getting started. Join today, and have a lump sum, plus a pleased feeling, early next December.

The next week the same passage appeared in an advertisement for a bank in Massillon, Ohio. 2

In 1968 an exact match appeared in the compilation “20,000 Quips and Quotes” edited by Evan Esar. No attribution was specified: 3

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

QI believes that the statement evolved over time and the earliest instances were anonymous. The attributions to Mark Twain and Agatha Christie occurred late and were not substantive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1923 December 9, The Coshocton Tribune, (Advertisement for Commercial National Bank of Coshocton, Ohio), Quote Page 3, Column 6, Coshocton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1923 December 15, The Evening Independent, (Advertisement for The First Savings & Loan Company in Massillon, Ohio), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Massillon, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Topic: Beginning, Quote Page 71, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)