Have We Vanquished an Enemy? None But Ourselves

George Mallory? Edmund Hillary? Apocryphal?

mallory10Dear Quote Investigator: Mountaineers have spoken about the physical endurance and self-mastery required to stand atop a mountain. Here are two similar statements expressing this idea:

1) Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves
2) It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

Two individuals have been linked to these quotations. One: George Mallory who climbed several lofty peaks but died in 1924 while attempting to ascend Mount Everest. Two: Edmund Hillary who made history by reaching the summit of Mount Everest with fellow mountaineer Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The first statement was written by George Mallory, and the second statement evolved from the first. QI has created a separate article about the second, and this article will center on the first.

After Mallory successfully climbed Mont Blanc with two companions he wrote about his experiences in the September 1918 issue of a London periodical called “The Alpine Journal: A Record of Mountain Adventure and Scientific Observation by Members of the Alpine Club”. The following passage describing Mallory’s feelings upon achieving the summit included the first quotation. Ellipsis was in the original; emphasis by QI: 1

One must conquer, achieve, get to the top; one must know the end to be convinced that one can win the end—to know there’s no dream that mustn’t be dared. . . . Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and quiet! We’re not exultant; but delighted, joyful; soberly astonished. . . . Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No . . . and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction . . . fulfilled a destiny.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1947 an editorial in the “Sunday World-Herald” of Omaha, Nebraska referred to another famous remark attributed to Mallory together with the quotation under examination: 2

. . . why do men want to climb Mount Everest? There is no gold at the top. Yet even the plains-bound can understand, dimly. They can grasp the meaning behind Mallory’s rather fumbled attempts to explain after an attempt in 1922. Once, asked to say why they wanted to climb Everest, he replied, “Because it’s there.” On another occasion he said: “Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves.”

The saying continued to circulate in 1961 when it appeared in the “Boston Sunday Herald: 3

The mountain allows man to measure himself. It was Mallory, the great Himalayan pioneer, who wrote: ‘Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves!’

In 1968 a book about risk-taking behavior titled “Why Man Takes Chances: Studies in Stress-Seeking” printed an essay containing an interesting variant with the word “conquered” instead of “vanquished”: 4

The great George Mallory said of Everest: “Whom have we conquered? None but ourselves. Have we won a kingdom? No—and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction, fulfilled a destiny. To struggle and to understand, never this last without the other.”

In 1972 another variant was printed in “The San Diego Union” newspaper in California: 5

Belatedly, a salute to the producers of “To the Top of Everest,” a documentary about the team of 39 Japanese mountain climbers, including one woman. As narrator Charles Kuralt noted, quoting from George Mallory: “In climbing a mountain have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves”.

In conclusion, George Mallory should be credited with the words he wrote in 1918. Mallory did not use the word “conquer” in his remark. That word appeared in variant phrases constructed decades later.

Image Notes: Picture of Mount Everest and part of the Himalayan range from Simon at Pixabay. Portrait of George Mallory circa 1915 via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Grothe is the author of several valuable quotation books including “Neverisms”. His website is located here.)

Notes:

  1. 1918 September, The Alpine Journal: A Record of Mountain Adventure and Scientific Observation by Members of the Alpine Club, Edited by George Yeld, Volume 32, Number 218, Article: Mont Blanc from the Col du Géant by the Eastern Buttress of Mont Maudit by G. L. Mallory (George Herbert Leigh Mallory), Start Page 148, Quote Page 162, Longmans, Green and Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1947 December 21, Sunday World-Herald (Omaha World-Herald), Editorial: The Great Mountain, Quote Page 22A, Column 1, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1961 May 28, Boston Sunday Herald (Boston Herald), Section: TV Programs, Mountain Conquest Theme of Program, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1968, Why Man Takes Chances: Studies in Stress-Seeking, Edited by Samuel Z. Klausner, The Last Blue Mountain by Charles S. Houston, Start Page 48, Quote Page 58, Anchor Books: Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1972 January 6, The San Diego Union, Don Freeman by Don Freeman (TV-Radio Editor, The San Diego Union), Quote Page C7, Column 1, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)