If We Treat People as If They Were What They Ought To Be, We Help Them Become What They Are Capable of Becoming

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Thomas Carlyle? Mary Shelley? Percy Bysshe Shelley? Thomas S. Monson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of sayings ascribed to the prominent German literary figure Goethe. Here are two instances in the family:

If you treat people as they are, they will become worse. If you treat them as they could be, they will become better.

If we treat people as if they were what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) in 1795 and 1796. The following passage in German presents the ideal of helping others to achieve their potential: 1

Wenn wir sagtest Du, die Menschen nur nehmen, wie sie sind, so machen wir sie schlechter; wenn wir sie behandeln als wären sie, was sie sein sollten, so bringen wir sie dahin, wohin sie zu bringen sind.

The influential Scottish essayist and translator Thomas Carlyle rendered Goethe’s novel into English in 1824. Here is Carlyle’s version of the passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

‘When we take people,’ thou wouldst say, ‘merely as they are, we make them worse; when we treat them as if they were what they should be, we improve them as far as they can be improved.’

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1801, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre: Ein Roman, (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship: A Novel) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vierter Band (Volume 4), Book 8, Chapter 4, Quote Page 194, Frankfurt und Leipzig. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1824, Translations from the German by Thomas Carlyle, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Travels, Translated from the German of Goethe, Volume 2 of 2,Book VIII, Chapter IV, Quote Page 93, Chapman and Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Get Your Happiness Out of Your Work, or You’ll Never Know What Happiness Is

Elbert Hubbard? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Working for a living consumes enormous amounts of time and energy. If you wish to be happy in life then it is essential to try and obtain happiness from your work. Would you please determine who created an adage expressing this idea?

Quote Investigator: Elbert Hubbard was the founder of a New York community of artisans called Roycrofters. He also collected and synthesized adages which appeared in his books and periodicals. The July 1904 issue of Hubbard’s “The Philistine” contained a pertinent saying. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If you would be happy, do not look for happiness outside of your work.

In July 1906 “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers” published a filler item crediting Hubbard’s periodical with a popular modern version of the adage: 2

Get your happiness out of your work or you’ll never know what happiness is.—The Philistine.

The reader must decide if this is a helpful insight or a misleading mantra for workaholics.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1904 July, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Volume 19, Number 2, (Filler item), Quote Page 60, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1906 July 4, Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers, Volume 56, Number 1, (Filler item), Quote Page 25 and 26, Column 2, Printers’ Ink Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Blessed Is He Who Has Found His Work; Let Him Ask No Other Blessedness

Creator: Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher, historian, and satirist

Context: The book “Past and Present” by Carlyle contains the following passage which metaphorically contrasts a swamp and a meadow. Emphasis added: 1

Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a work, a life-purpose; he has found it, and will follow it! How, as a free-flowing channel, dug and torn by noble force through the sour mud-swamp of one’s existence, like an ever-deepening river there, it runs and flows; — draining-off the sour festering water, gradually from the root of the remotest grass-blade; making, instead of pestilential swamp, a green fruitful meadow with its clear-flowing stream.

Related Article: Get your happiness out of your work or you’ll never know what happiness is.—Elbert Hubbard

Image Notes: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle by Helen Allingham circa 1879. Image has been cropped and resized. Portrait accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

  1. 1843, Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, Chapter 11: Labour, Quote Page 169 and 170, Chapman and Hall, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link

The Eye Sees Only What the Mind Is Prepared To Comprehend

Henri Bergson? Robertson Davies? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Thomas Carlyle? Anais Nin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One might see a duck when looking at the famous ambiguous image above, or one might see a rabbit. Perceiving one animal partially blocks the recognition of the other animal, and mental effort is required to switch one’s viewpoint. The influential French philosopher Henri Bergson and the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies have both been credited with a germane remark:

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

Would you please explore the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found any substantive evidence linking the quotation to Henri Bergson who died in 1941.

An exact match occurred in the 1951 novel “Tempest-Tost” by Robertson Davies. One of the primary characters in the book observed two young lovers. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

At some distance from the path, under the trees, was a bench, and upon it were a boy and girl in a close embrace. Ordinarily Hector would not have noticed them, for the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. He saw them now; Hector the actor, rather than Hector the teacher of mathematics took note of what they were doing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Eye Sees Only What the Mind Is Prepared To Comprehend

Notes:

  1. 1980 (Copyright 1951), Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies, Chapter 3, Quote Page 116, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. (Verified with scans)

In Every Object There Is Inexhaustible Meaning. The Eye Sees In It What the Eye Brings Means of Seeing

Thomas Carlyle? Patrick Geddes? Robertson Davies? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you interpret a visual scene your grasp is limited by your knowledge and preconceptions. The eye can only see what it is prepared to see. The Scottish philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle said something similar to this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Thomas Carlyle published “The French Revolution: A History” in 1837. He employed a matching comment, but he did not take credit for the cogent saying. The phrase “it is well said” meant that the creator was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For indeed it is well said, ‘in every object there is inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of seeing.’ To Newton and to Newton’s Dog Diamond, what a different pair of Universes; while the painting on the optical retina of both was, most likely, the same!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading In Every Object There Is Inexhaustible Meaning. The Eye Sees In It What the Eye Brings Means of Seeing

Notes:

  1. 1838, The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle, Volume 1: The Bastille, Book 1: Death of Louis XV, Chapter 2: Realised Ideals, Quote Page 5, Charles C. Little and James Brown, Boston, Massachusetts. (An earlier edition appeared in 1837)(Google Books Full View) link

The More I Know About People, the Better I Like Dogs

Mark Twain? Madame de Sévigné? Madame Roland? Alphonse de Lamartine? Alphonse Toussenel? Louise de la Rameé? Alfred D’Orsay? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular expression combines disappointment with humanity together with praise for canines. Here are four versions:

  • The more I see of men, the more I like dogs.
  • The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.
  • The more I know about people, the better I like my dog.
  • The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.

These words have been attributed to Mark Twain and Alphonse Toussenel. Would you please explore the statement’s provenance?

Quote Investigator: Top quotation researcher Ralph Keyes remarked on the long history of ascriptions to a variety of famous French figures: 1

They include the inimitable letter-writer Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné, 1626-1696), the revolutionary writer Madame Roland (Marie-Jeanne Philipon, 1754-1793), author-politician Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), author Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885), and author Louise de la Rameé (1839-1908).

Yet, QI and other researchers have not yet found any published evidence in the 1600s or 1700s; hence, the linkage to Madame de Sévigné and Madame Roland is currently unsupported.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires” in 1822, and the attribution was anonymous. Passages in French are followed by English translations. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Nous venons de recevoir le Miroir de la Somme, il contient les niaiseries suivantes: Une dame disait l’autre jour: plus je connais les hommes, mieux j’aime les chiens.

We just received the Mirror of the Somme, it contains the following nonsense: A lady said the other day: the more I know men, the better I like dogs.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The More I Know About People, the Better I Like Dogs

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 47, 48 and 283, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1822 November 13, Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires: Journal de l’industrie, des mœurs, des théâtres et des beaux arts, Supplément, Mélanges, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Lyons, France. (Google Books Full View) link

An Army Marches On Its Stomach

Napoleon Bonaparte? Frederick the Great? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proper logistics are crucial to any successful military campaign. The importance of food supply is highlighted in a well-known aphorism. Here are four versions:

  • An army marches on its stomach.
  • An army marches on its belly.
  • An army travels on its stomach.
  • An army goes upon its belly.

This saying has been ascribed to the famous leaders Napoleon Bonaparte and Frederick the Great. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1858 work “History of Friedrich the Second, Called Frederick the Great” by the prominent philosopher, essayist, and historian Thomas Carlyle. The saying occurred in the description of an unsuccessful military endeavor. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

They were stronger than Turk and Saracen, but not than Hunger and Disease. Leaders did not know then, as our little Friend at Berlin came to know, that “an Army, like a serpent, goes upon its belly.”

The referent “little Friend at Berlin” was ambiguous, but a later volume of this work by Carlyle clearly ascribed the adage to Frederick II, i.e., Frederick the Great.

Frederick II died in 1786 and Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821. An instance of the aphorism was attributed to Frederick II by 1858 and to Bonaparte by 1862. In each case the long delay reduced the credibility of the linkage.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Army Marches On Its Stomach

Notes:

  1. 1858, History of Friedrich the Second, Called Frederick the Great by Thomas Carlyle, Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter 6: The Teutsch Ritters or Teutonic Order, Quote Page 83, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Clear Your Mind of Cant / Clear Your Mind of Can’t

Samuel Johnson? James Boswell? Thomas Carlyle? Apocryphal?

mind08Dear Quote Investigator: Two statements that sound the same but have very different meanings have been attributed to the esteemed dictionary maker and man of letters Samuel Johnson:

1) Clear your mind of cant.
2) Clear your mind of can’t.

In the first statement the noun “cant” referred to insincere, trite, or sanctimonious speech. Johnson was telling a friend not to dwell on this form of verbal nonsense.

In the second statement the term “can’t” referred to negative thoughts that undermine one’s self-confidence. But I think that this phrasing was too modern for Johnson who died in 1784. It sounds like a maxim from a current motivational book or poster. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The first expression was spoken to James Boswell by Samuel Johnson on May 15, 1783 as recorded in the famous biographical work “Boswell’s Life of Johnson”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

JOHNSON. “My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do. You may say to a man, ‘Sir, I am your most humble servant.’ You are not his most humble servant. You may say, ‘These are sad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved to such times.’ You don’t mind the times. You tell a man, ‘I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet.’ You don’t care six-pence whether he was wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society: but don’t think foolishly.”

The second phrase was attributed to Johnson by 1929, but that was a very late date; clearly, the attribution was a mistake caused by confusion of the homophones: cant and can’t.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Clear Your Mind of Cant / Clear Your Mind of Can’t

Notes:

  1. 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, in Chronological Order by James Boswell, Volume 2 of 2, Time period specified: May 15, 1783, Quote Page 454 and 455, Printed by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

Nearly All Men Can Stand Adversity, But If You Want To Test a Man’s Character, Give Him Power

Abraham Lincoln? Thomas Carlyle? Robert G. Ingersoll? Horatio Alger Jr.? Apocryphal?

lincoln07Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the following quotation on the website of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum:

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Lincoln was credited, but I have seen skepticism expressed on other websites. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that this statement was spoken or written by Abraham Lincoln. The famous orator and free thinker Robert G. Ingersoll employed similar phrases when he was describing Lincoln. QI conjectures that this was the primary nexus of confusion: something that was said about Lincoln was transformed into something that was said by Lincoln.

The overall history and evolution of the saying is long and complex. Part of the semantics can be traced back to a remark by Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle in 1841. An exact match for the modern instance with an ascription to Lincoln appeared by 1931.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nearly All Men Can Stand Adversity, But If You Want To Test a Man’s Character, Give Him Power

The Eternal Stars Shine Out Again, So Soon As It Is Dark Enough

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Martin Luther King Jr.? Emily Faithfull? Amelia Edith Barr? Charles A. Beard? Thomas Carlyle? Norman Vincent Peale? Anonymous?

nightsky07Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular metaphorical expression that encourages people to maintain hope and optimism during times of unhappiness and trouble. Here are three versions:

1) Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
2) When the night is dark enough the stars shine out.
3) Not until it gets really dark do the beautiful stars appear.

Admittedly, there is considerable ambiguity when interpreting these sayings, and the most common meanings may have shifted over time.

The first version above is often attributed to the famous transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I searched a database of his complete works and was unable to find it. Would you please explore this adage?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1843 book “Past and Present” by the influential Scottish philosopher and social commentator Thomas Carlyle. He employed an instance of the metaphor while discussing squalor, strikes, and revolts. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As dark misery settles down on us, and our refuges of lies fall in pieces one after one, the hearts of men, now at last serious, will turn to refuges of truth. The eternal stars shine out again, so soon as it is dark enough.

Different versions of the expression have been circulating for more than a century and a half, but the meaning has been malleable. In the instance above QI believes that Carlyle was suggesting important truths emerged during times of tribulation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson used the expression. Some writers of moral instruction and romantic fiction did use instances in the 1800s.

The prominent historian Charles A. Beard employed the saying in lectures and articles by 1909, but he credited Thomas Carlyle. Indeed, when Beard was asked to summarize his extensive knowledge of the past he produced a condensation that consisted of four laws of history, and one law was based on Carlyle’s words. The other three are listed further below.

The civil rights champion Martin Luther King used an instance in a speech, but he credited Charles A. Beard. The popular religious writer Norman Vincent Peale also helped to popularize the saying.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Eternal Stars Shine Out Again, So Soon As It Is Dark Enough

Notes:

  1. 1843, Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, Book IV: Chapter VIII: The Didactic, Start Page 251, Quote Page 251, Published by Chapman & Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link