Robert Frost? Anita Brookner? Thucydides? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous poet Robert Frost enjoyed socializing with people who had strong personalities. He highlighted a connection between freedom and boldness. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: In December 1952 “The New Yorker” magazine published a piece by Philip Hamburger who presented statements made by Robert Frost during an interview broadcast on the NBC television network. The ellipses below appeared in the original text. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
“I don’t care about spending much time with people who haven’t a definite personality. I am that kind of an equalitarian. I like to mix with my equals, people who have as much personality as I have … but the great thing is taut boldness. … People … will tell you that freedom lies in being cautious.” Here he violently shook his head. “Freedom lies in being bold.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
The ancient Greek historian Thucydides crafted a famous Funeral Oration delivered by Pericles which included a thematically pertinent statement. The following is from a translation by Rex Warner: 2
Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.
After the 1952 television interview with Robert Frost a columnist in the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” of Virginia reported on the program. The poet’s remark about freedom impressed the journalist: 3
“People will tell you,” concluded the televised Frost, “that freedom lies in being cautious” (here he violently shook his head), “Freedom lies in being bold.”
In 1967 “The Great Quotations” compiled by George Seldes included the following entry: 4
Freedom lies in being bold.
[Robert Frost: Quoted
In 1987 “The Paris Review” published an interview with English art historian and novelist Anita Brookner. She commented on the value of boldness: 5
I now feel that all good fortune is a gift of the gods, and that you don’t win the favor of the ancient gods by being good, but by being bold.
In 1992 Frost’s remark appeared in the collection “And I Quote”: 6
Freedom lies in being bold. —Robert Frost
In conclusion, QI believes that it is reasonable to credit Robert Frost with the words published in “The New Yorker” citation of 1952. The accuracy of the quotation depends on the memory of Philip Hamburger who watched Frost on television. The testimony of “Richmond Times-Dispatch” columnist Ross Valentine also supported the correctness of the quotation.
(Great thanks to R. whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. In addition, thanks to Jonathan Mitchell who pointed to the Thucydides citation.)
Image Notes: Ancient Greek fresco painting showing a person diving; part of the archaeological monument Tomb of the Diver in Paestum, Italy. Image has been heavily altered, resized, and cropped.
Update History: On May 18, 2020 the Thucydides citation was added.
- 1952 December 13, The New Yorker, Television: Men of Faith by Philip Hamburger, Start Page 167, Quote Page 169, The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans) ↩
- 1978 (1954 Copyright), History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Translated by Rex Warner, Introduction by M. I. Finley, Book 2, Chapter: Pericles’ Funeral Oration, Quote Page 149 and 150, Penguin Books, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1952 December 16, Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Words Would Stick in His Throat by Ross Valentine, Quote Page 14, Column 7, Richmond, Virginia. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1967, The Great Quotations, Compiled by George Seldes, Topic: Freedom, Quote Page 375, Column 1, Pocket Books. New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1987 Fall, The Paris Review, Issue 104, The Art of Fiction No. 98, Anita Brookner Interviewed by Shusha Guppy, Paris Review, Inc., Flushing, New York. (Online archive at theparisreview.org; accessed on May 4, 2020) link ↩
- 1992, And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker by Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans III, and Andrew Frothingham, Topic: Freedom and Liberty, Quote Page 451, A Thomas Dunne Book: St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩