Joseph Conrad? Edgar Ansel Mowrer? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Great attainments are normally thought to require superior mental acuity, but the brilliant novelist Joseph Conrad apparently contended that a “warm mental fog” was necessary. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: In 1915 Joseph Conrad published “Victory: An Island Story” in “Munsey’s Magazine”. The narrator described a young impressionable man who was taught by his father to profoundly mistrust life. The result was detrimental. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
It is not the clear-sighted who lead the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm, mental fog, which the pitiless cold blasts of the father’s analysis had blown away from the son.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Conrad’s story containing the quotation was also printed in book form in several editions. For example, Doubleday, Page & Company of Garden City, New Jersey published “Victory: An Island Tale” in 1920. 2
In 1930 an editorial in the “Fayette County Leader” of Fayette, Iowa included an excerpt from Conrad containing the quotation: 3
Joseph Conrad, in one of his novels, wrote: “It is not the clear-sighted who lead the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm, mental fog. . . . . Every age is fed on illusion, lest men should renounce life early and the human race come to an end.”
The quotation after the ellipsis appeared in Conrad’s story several paragraphs after the first quotation. The original 1915 text contained “illusions” instead of “illusion”.
In 1963 the syndicated columnist Edgar Ansel Mowrer shared a slightly different version of the quotation with “rule” instead of “lead”: 4
“After all, as the hero of Joseph Conrad’s novel Victory remarked:
“‘It is not the clear sighted who rule the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed warm mental fog.’“
In 2000 the saying continued to circulate in the “Star Tribune” of Minneapolis, Minnesota although “rule” replaced “lead”: 5
“It is not the clear-sighted who rule the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm fog.” –Joseph Conrad, author
In conclusion, Joseph Conrad should receive credit for the passage he wrote in the 1915 citation. The modern version of the quotation is usually truncated, and sometimes the word “lead” is changed to “rule”.
Image Notes: Portrait of Joseph Conrad circa 1904 by George Charles Beresford. Picture of a figure in the fog.
(Great thanks to Luis Oliveira whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1915 February (1914 Copyright), Munsey’s Magazine, Volume 54, Victory: An Island Story by Joseph Conrad, Start Page 112, Quote Page 139, The Frank A. Munsey Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1920 (Copyright 1915), Victory: An Island Tale by Joseph Conrad, Quote Page 103, Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New Jersey. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1930 January 23, Fayette County Leader, Comment (Editorial), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Fayette, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1963 June 6, The Pantagraph, Listen To Them: Mowrer’s Zoologist Friend Postulates on Pilot Fishes by Edgar Ansel Mowrer, Quote Page 4, Column 7, Bloomington, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2000 August 22, Star Tribune, Today’s Quote, Quote Page E1, Location: Top Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com) ↩