Lewis Carroll? Cheshire Cat? C. S. Lewis? Jules de Gaultier? Benjamin de Casseres? Percy Bysshe Shelley? Herbert Kaufman? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: Reality can be cold and disheartening. Yet, humans have the extraordinary facility to imagine a different and more entertaining universe. Here are two versions of a pertinent saying:
(1) Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.
(2) In the war against reality, humanity has but one weapon—Imagination.
This remark has been attributed to the popular children’s author Lewis Carroll, the well-known fantasy author C. S. Lewis, the French philosopher Jules de Gaultier, and the essayist Benjamin de Casseres. Who is the genuine originator of this expression? Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1916 Benjamin de Casseres published an essay about the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in “The Poetry Journal”. De Casseres employed a version of the saying while describing the works of Shelley, but he did not attribute the comment to the poet. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1916 July, The Poetry Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, Shelley by Benjamin de Casseres, Start Page 19, Quote Page 20, The Four Seas Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
In the sublime war of man against Reality man has but one weapon, the imagination. The ethereal imagination is the highest form of the evolution of the transfiguring and sublimating power of images. It marks the boundary line between the mystery of matter and the mystery of spirit. It is the fine volatilized plasma of an esoteric dimension, of a world where the truths hinted at by the x-ray and radium are true for the human mind and body.
Based on current evidence QI believes that Benjamin de Casseres deserves credit for the quotation under examination. Jules de Gaultier improbably received credit in 1935 after the saying had been circulating for nearly two decades. Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis implausibly received credit in the 21st century.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.