Serious-Minded People Have Few Ideas. People With Many Ideas Are Never Serious

Paul Valéry? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following appeared as an epigraph to an article I saw recently:

Serious-minded people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.

The words were attributed to the French poet and commentator Paul Valéry. I am not sure precisely what the remark means. Would you please help me to find a citation for the original statement in French?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 Paul Valéry published “Mauvaises pensées et autres” (“Bad thoughts and others”) which contained a collection of short passages about a variety of topics. The following statement was included: 1

Un homme sérieux a peu d’idées. Un homme à idées n’est jamais sérieux.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

Serious people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.

QI can only guess at the meaning. Perhaps the remark suggests that serious people offer few panaceas, and people who do offer panaceas should not be taken seriously.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Princeton University Press published a multi-volume edition of “The Collected Works of Paul Valéry”. The fourteenth volume copyrighted 1970 included a section with an English translation by Stuart Gilbert of “Bad Thoughts and Not So Bad”. The adage appeared as follows: 2

A serious man has few ideas. A man of many ideas cannot be serious.

In 1980 the “Dictionary of Foreign Quotations” compiled by Robert and Mary Collison printed the statement in French and English: 3

Un homme sérieux a peu d’idées. Un homme a idées n’est jamais sérieux.
Paul Valéry:
Mauvaises Pensées (French)

Serious-minded people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.

In 1993 “The New International Dictionary of Quotations” presented the following translation: 4

Serious people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.
—PAUL VALÉRY, Mauvaises pensées

In 1998 “The Penguin Thesaurus of Quotations” offered a different translation: 5

A serious man has few ideas. A man of many ideas cannot be serious.
[Paul Valéry, 1871-1945. Analects, I]

In 2006 “Wisdom for the Soul” compiled by Larry Chang included this instance: 6

Serious people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.
~ Paul Valéry, 1871-1945 ~
Mauvaises pensées et autres, 1942

In conclusion, Paul Valéry deserves credit for the remark he wrote in “Mauvaises pensées et autres” in 1942. It has been translated into English in several different ways.

Image Notes: Picture of a line of lights bulbs with one bulb illuminated from ColiN00B at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Daniel Gackle whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1960, Oeuvres de Paul Valéry, Volume 2, Édition Établie at Annotée par Jean Hytier, Section: Mauvaises pensées et autres (Bad thoughts and others), Quote Page 844, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1970 Copyright, The Collected Works of Paul Valéry, Analects, Volume 14, Translated into English by Stuart Gilbert, Bollingen Series Number 45, Section: Bad Thoughts and Not So Bad, Quote Page 444, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 1980, Dictionary of Foreign Quotations, Compiled by Robert and Mary Collison, Topic: Ideas, Quote Page 166, Column 2, Facts on File, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1993, The New International Dictionary of Quotations, Selected by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson, (Second Edition), Topic: Ideas & Ideals, Quote Page 153, A Dutton Book: Penguin Books, New York. (Verified on with hardcopy)
  5. 1998, The Penguin Thesaurus of Quotations, Edited by M. J. Cohen, Topic: Ideas, Quote Page 245, Penguin Books, London and New York. (Verified with scans)
  6. 2006, Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing, Compiled and Edited by Larry Chang, Section: Idea / Opinion, Quote Page 379, Column 2, Gnosophia Publishers, Washington, D.C. (Verified with scans)