Mary Shelley? Mary Wollstonecraft? Wednesday Addams? Epictetus? George Stanhope? Gustav Friedrich Wiggers?
Question for Quote Investigator: Usually, a person does not perform an evil act simply because it is evil. Instead, the motivation is more complex. The person is pursuing their own deeply flawed vision of good. Often, the person is pursuing their own happiness or pleasure.
This notion has been attributed to English philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft who was a prominent advocate of women’s rights. It has also been attributed to English writer Mary Shelley who authored the famous novel “Frankenstein”. An instance of this saying occurred in the recent Netflix streaming series “Wednesday” which centers on the character Wednesday Addams. Would you please help me to find a citation which presents the precise phasing of this quotation.
Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1790 Mary Wollstonecraft published “A Vindication of the Rights of Men” which included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
It may be confidently asserted that no man chooses evil, because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks. And the desire of rectifying these mistakes, is the noble ambition of an enlightened understanding, the impulse of feelings that Philosophy invigorates.
Thus, Mary Wollstonecraft deserves credit for this quotation although the theme can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus.
The attribution to Mary Shelley was probably caused by a naming confusion. Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and political philosopher William Godwin. Her birth name was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. She became Mary Shelley when she married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Supplementary citations are available in the full article on the Medium website which is available here.
Image Notes: Illustration of Eve selecting an apple with a serpent nearby from jeffjacobs1990 at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.
Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Ibon Basterrika whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Basterrika knew that Mary Wollstonecraft deserved credit and not Mary Shelley.
Paul Samuelson? Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun? Percy Bysshe Shelley? Mary Shelley? Sylvia Nasar?
Question for Quote Investigator: The cultural impact of economic thought has been enormous. Apparently, a famous economist once said something like this:
I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws if I can write its economic textbooks.
Would you please help me to identify this economist and find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson published the perennially popular textbook “Economics” beginning in 1948. Twenty editions have appeared during subsequent decades.
In 1990 Samuelson wrote the foreword to “The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors”, and he employed the quotation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” It was a poet who said that, exercising occupational license. Some sage, it may have been I, declared in similar vein: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treaties—if I can write its economic textbooks.” The first lick is the privileged one, impinging on the beginner’s tabula rasa at its most impressionable state.
Paul Samuelson’s phrasing was humorously tentative, but QI believes that he deserves credit for the remark under examination. When Samuelson crafted his remark he was deliberately alluding to a family of previous remarks about the powerful cultural influence of music and poetry.
In 1704 Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun published “An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind”, and he attributed a pertinent remark about music to an anonymous wise man. This remark used the same template as Samuelson’s comment:
. . . a very wise man . . . believed if a man were permitted to make all the Ballads, he need not care who should make the Laws of a Nation. And we find that most of the antient Legislators thought they could not well reform the manners of any City without the help of a Lyric, and sometimes of a Dramatic Poet.
Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.
Mary Shelley? Victor Frankenstein? Scott Galloway? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: English author Mary Shelley penned the famous science fiction novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”. The overweening ambition of the main character, scientist Victor Frankenstein, caused him to create a monster. He learned bitterly that his passion for success and fame was destructive. Apparently, his dying words were a powerful injunction to avoid ambition. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein” in 1818. Victor Frankenstein’s final conversation occurs with Robert Walton, the captain of a ship which is on a dangerous journey toward the North Pole. Crewmembers of the ship discover an exhausted and gaunt Victor floating on a block of ice. After Victor partially recovers his health he proceeds to tell the captain his tragic saga. Below are Victor’s last words before expiring. This passage uses the British spelling: “tranquillity”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
“The forms of the beloved dead flit before me, and I hasten to their arms. Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.”
Oddly, Victor’s final two sentences seem to undercut the admonition to avoid ambition. Victor’s ambivalence reflects the complexity of his character. Mary Shelley did not wish to enforce a single meaning for her sophisticated fable. The framing tale of Captain Robert Walton’s perilous voyage illustrates a counterpoint to Victor’s story. Walton decides to halt his expedition. Thus, Walton selects safety over ambition.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Seek Happiness in Tranquility and Avoid Ambition
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Robert Walton? Victor Frankenstein? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Finding a goal or purpose to strive for in life is wonderfully helpful; uncertainty and anxiety are replaced by mental tranquility. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who authored the groundbreaking science fiction novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” once made this point. Would you please help me to find citation?
Quote Investigator: Shelley’s “Frankenstein” begins with the text of a letter from the explorer Robert Walton to his sister. The fictional Walton is leading an expedition toward the North Pole while hoping to make a major discovery such as a navigable passage connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose,—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole.
The 1818 edition employed the spelling “tranquillize”. Variant spellings include: tranquillise, tranquilize, and tranquilise.
Walton’s crew discover a man on a sledge who is nearly dead. The man is nursed back to health, and Shelley switches the narration of the novel. The rescued man is the ill-fated scientist Victor Frankenstein, and he recounts the rest of the tale.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Nothing Contributes So Much To Tranquillize the Mind As a Steady Purpose,—a Point On Which the Soul May Fix Its Intellectual Eye