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.

In 1824 a multi-volume collection titled “Oeuvres Complètes de Chamfort” was published and the saying was printed in the second volume. But there was a slight modification: the capitalization of “Marchand” was removed to yield “marchand” which is the French word for merchant. Hence, it was possible that Chamfort was not using “Marchand” as a proper name but as the name of a profession. 2

In 1900 a journal called “The Eagle and the Serpent” based in London published a set of sayings from Chamfort that had been translated into English. The following four expressions were included. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

ONE THOUSAND FLASHES OF SAVING PENETRATION.
The Wit, Wisdom and Wickedness of Chamfort.

The world either breaks or hardens the heart.

The public! the public! How many fools does it take to make a public?

Enjoy and give enjoyment, without injury to thyself or to others; this is true morality.

You run the risk of being disgusted if you pry into the processes of cookery, government, or justice.

Note that the introductory phrase in which Chamfort acknowledged a witty advocate was excised, and Chamfort received direct credit.

During the following weeks, material from “The Eagle and the Serpent” was reprinted in other periodicals such as “The Academy: A Weekly Review of Literature and Life” in London and “The New York Times” in New York. The following three sayings appeared in both: 4 5

Intelligent people make many blunders because they never believe the world as stupid as it is.

Love pleases more than marriage for the reason that romance is more interesting than history.

You run the risk of being disgusted if you pry into the processes of cookery, government, or justice.

In 1902 “The Cynic’s Breviary: Maxims and Anecdotes from Nicolas de Chamfort” was published, and the translator William G. Hutchison presented an alternative rendering of the statement which included the acknowledgement to a “witty advocate”: 6

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

In 1949 the industrious collector Evan Esar published “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations”, and he included an instance ascribed to Chamfort that was similar to the one above; however, the prefatory acknowledgement was removed: 7

CHAMFORT, Nicholas, 1741-1794, French wit and writer.
One would risk being disgusted if one saw politics, justice, and one’s dinner in the making.

In 1964 the syndicated newspaper column “Office Cat” by Junius printed an instance of the saying that exactly matched the version in “The Cynic’s Breviary” of 1902 described previously in this article. 8

In conclusion, the statement given in the 1798 citation can properly be ascribed to Nicolas Chamfort. He can also be credited with popularizing the expression. Yet, Chamfort attributed the words to a “witty advocate” who was apparently named Marchand. A few different translations into English were presented above.

Image Notes: Tilted scales from OpenClips on Pixabay. Nicolas Chamfort image from Wikimedia Commons. Plate and utensils from Nemo on Pixabay.

(Great thanks to David Rubenstein who appended a valuable comment to the article on “laws and sausages” that pointed to the statement by Chamfort. Thanks to S. M. Colowick for her help. All errors are the responsibility of QI.)

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
  2. Year: 1824, Title: Oeuvres Complètes de Chamfort, Volume: Tome Second, Quote Page 140, Publisher: Chez Chaumerot Jeune, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1900 October, The Eagle and the Serpent: A Journal of Wit, Wisdom and Wickedness, Volume 2, Number 2, One Thousand Flashes of Saving Penetration: The Wit Wisdom and Wickedness of Chamfort, Quote Page 12, Published by Watts & Company, Fleet Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1900 October 27, The Academy: A Weekly Review of Literature and Life, (Untitled short article), Start Page 327, Quote Page 372, Published at The Academy Office, Chancery Lane, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1900 November 18, The New York Times, Chamfort’s Maxims: From The Eagle and the Serpent, Quote Page 19, Column 5, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1902, The Cynic’s Breviary: Maxims and Anecdotes from Nicolas de Chamfort, Selected and Translated by William G. Hutchison, Quote Page 42, Elkin Mathews, Vigo Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  7. 1949, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: Nicholas Chamfort, Quote Page 51, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1989 reprint edition from Dorset Press, New York)
  8. 1964 March 12, The Kingston Daily Freeman, Office Cat by Junius (Syndicated), Quote Page 22, Column 1, Kingston, New York. (Newspapers_com)