Life Is Thick Sown with Thorns, and I Know No Other Remedy Than To Pass Quickly Through Them

Voltaire? Louis Mayeul Chaudon? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous French writer Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) apparently said something like: Life is bristling with thorns. One must travel through them quickly to minimize the pain and harm. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Voltaire died in 1778, and Louis Mayeul Chaudon published a biographical work in 1785. The anecdote section included the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1785, Mémoires Pour Servir à L’Histoire de M. de Voltaire, Editor: Louis Mayeul Chaudon, Part 2, Section: Anecdotes Sur Voltaire, Quote Page 78, Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Google Books Full … Continue reading

« La vie est hérissée d’épines, ( disoit Voltaire ) ; & je ne sçais d’autre remède, que de passer vite à travers ces broussailles. C’est donner de la consistance aux maux, que de trop s’y arrêter. »

In 1786 Chaudon’s work was translated and published under the title “Historical and Critical Memoirs of the Life and Writings of M. de Voltaire”. The text above was rendered as follows:[2]1786, Historical and Critical Memoirs of the Life and Writings of M. de Voltaire. Interspersed with Numerous Anecdotes, Poetical Pieces, Epigrams and Bon Mots, From the French of Dom Chaudon (Louis … Continue reading

Life, said Voltaire, is thick sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.

Thus, this quotation did not appear in Voltaire’s writings; instead, it appeared in a biographical work printed posthumously. Its authenticity is dependent upon the care and diligence of Louis Mayeul Chaudon.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading Life Is Thick Sown with Thorns, and I Know No Other Remedy Than To Pass Quickly Through Them

References

References
1 1785, Mémoires Pour Servir à L’Histoire de M. de Voltaire, Editor: Louis Mayeul Chaudon, Part 2, Section: Anecdotes Sur Voltaire, Quote Page 78, Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1786, Historical and Critical Memoirs of the Life and Writings of M. de Voltaire. Interspersed with Numerous Anecdotes, Poetical Pieces, Epigrams and Bon Mots, From the French of Dom Chaudon (Louis Mayeul Chaudon), Quote Page 291, Printed for G. G. J and J. Robinson, London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Have Seen So Many Extraordinary Things, That There Is Nothing Extraordinary To Me Now

Voltaire? Lewis Carroll? George Sand? François-Marie Arouet? C. L. Dodgson? Aurore Dupin Dudevant? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following remark perfectly encapsulates a world-weary perspective:

I have seen so many extraordinary things, nothing seems extraordinary any more.

This expression has been attributed to three people who employed pseudonyms: witty philosopher Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), fantasy author Lewis Carroll (C. L. Dodgson), and French novelist George Sand (Aurore Dupin Dudevant). Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1759 Voltaire published the famous satirical tale “Candide, Ou L’Optimisme” (“Candide, Or The Optimist”). In chapter 21 the characters Candide and Martin engaged in a philosophical discussion about humankind. Candide asked Martin about a story involving monkeys that they had spoken about previously. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1759, Candide, Ou L’Optimisme, Traduit De L’Allemand de Mr. Le Docteur Ralph (Voltaire), Chapitre Vingt-Unième: Candide & Martin aprochent des Côtes de France & raisonnent, … Continue reading

N’êtes-vous pas bien étonné, continua Candide, de l’amour que ces deux filles du pays des Oreillons avaient pour ces deux singes, & dont je vous ai conté l’aventure?

Point du tout, dit Martin, je ne vois pas ce que cette passion a d’étrange; j’ai tant vu de choses extraordinaires, qu’il n’y a plus rien d’extraordinaire.

In 1762 an English translation of Voltaire’s work appeared. The name “Candide” was presented as “Candid” in the following rendering of the passage:[2]1762, The Works of M. de Voltaire, Translated for the French with Notes, Historical and Critical by T. Smollett (Tobias Smollett), T. Francklin, M.A. and Others, Volume 18, Section: Candid Or, The … Continue reading

Are you not surprised, continued Candid, at the love which the two girls in the country of the Oreillons had for those two monkeys?—You know I have told you the story.

Surprised! replied Martin, not in the least; I see nothing strange in this passion. I have seen so many extraordinary things, that there is nothing extraordinary to me now.

QI believes that Voltaire should receive credit for popularizing this remark. This notion is sufficiently common that an earlier semantic match probably exists. The precise phrasing in English of Voltaire’s statement varies because several different translations have been published over the years.

George Sand penned a thematically similar remark, and a detailed citation is given below. The linkage to Lewis Carroll is unsupported. The first attribution to him occurred in the 21st century.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Have Seen So Many Extraordinary Things, That There Is Nothing Extraordinary To Me Now

References

References
1 1759, Candide, Ou L’Optimisme, Traduit De L’Allemand de Mr. Le Docteur Ralph (Voltaire), Chapitre Vingt-Unième: Candide & Martin aprochent des Côtes de France & raisonnent, Quote Page 191 and 191, (No publisher listed). (Gallica BNF Bibliothèque nationale de France) link
2 1762, The Works of M. de Voltaire, Translated for the French with Notes, Historical and Critical by T. Smollett (Tobias Smollett), T. Francklin, M.A. and Others, Volume 18, Section: Candid Or, The Optimist, Chapter 21: Candid and Martin, while thus reasoning with each other, draw near to the coast of France, Quote Page 87, Printed for J. Newbery, R. Baldwin, W. Johnston et al, London. (Google Books Full View) link

God Gave Us the Gift of Life; It Is Up To Us To Give Ourselves the Gift of Living Well

Voltaire? François-Marie Arouet? Jean Orieux? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous writer of the Enlightenment stated that God gave each of us the gift of life. It is our responsibility to take advantage of this gift by living fully and well. Voltaire has received credit for a remark of this type. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) died in 1778. The 1880 edition of “Œuvres complètes de Voltaire” (“Complete Works of Voltaire”) included the following statement in its appendix. Boldface added to excerpts:[1]1880, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire (Complete Works of Voltaire), Chapter 9: Extraits D’un Manuscrit de la Main de M. de Voltaire (Extracts From a Manuscript in the Hand of M. de Voltaire), … Continue reading

Dieu nous a donné le vivre; c’est à nous de nous donner le bien vivre.

The 1979 book “Voltaire: A Biography of the Man & His Century” by Jean Orieux contained the following English translation:[2]1979, Voltaire: A Biography of the Man & His Century by Jean Orieux, Translated from French by Barbara Bray and Helen R. Lane, Chapter 5, Quote Page 101, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New … Continue reading

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. (Remarks)

This statement occurred in a section of the 1880 work called “Extracts from a Manuscript in the Hand of M. de Voltaire”, but QI does not know any details about the provenance of the manuscript. Hence, the accuracy of the attribution to Voltaire depends on the expertise of the 1880 editor of “Œuvres complètes de Voltaire”.

Continue reading God Gave Us the Gift of Life; It Is Up To Us To Give Ourselves the Gift of Living Well

References

References
1 1880, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire (Complete Works of Voltaire), Chapter 9: Extraits D’un Manuscrit de la Main de M. de Voltaire (Extracts From a Manuscript in the Hand of M. de Voltaire), Intitlé Sottisier (Title Foolishness), Appendice (Appendix), Supplément aux oeuvres en prose (Supplement to works in prose), Section: Montaigne, Quote Page 516, Garnier Frères, Libraires-Editeurs, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1979, Voltaire: A Biography of the Man & His Century by Jean Orieux, Translated from French by Barbara Bray and Helen R. Lane, Chapter 5, Quote Page 101, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It

Voltaire? François-Marie Arouet? S. G. Tallentyre? Evelyn Beatrice Hall? Ignazio Silone? Douglas Young? Norbert Guterman?

Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please explore a famous saying that apparently has been misattributed to Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

The words above reportedly originated with an English author named Evelyn Beatrice Hall in 1906. There is a different version in French, but I do not think it is authentic:

Monsieur l’abbé, je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerai ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire.

Here is one rendering in English:

Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.

What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Voltaire was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet who died in 1778. The earliest evidence of the saying appeared many years afterwards in the 1906 book “The Friends of Voltaire” by S. G. Tallentyre which was the pseudonym of historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

Her book described an incident involving the French philosopher Claude-Adrien Helvétius who in 1758 published a controversial work titled “De l’esprit” (“On the Mind”). The book was condemned in the Parlement of Paris and by the Collège de Sorbonne. Voltaire was unimpressed with the text, but he considered the attacks unjustified. After Voltaire learned that the book by Helvétius had been publicly incinerated he reacted as follows according to Hall:[1] 1906, The Friends of Voltaire by S. G. Tallentyre (Actual author: Evelyn Beatrice Hall), Quote Page 198 and 199, Published be John Murray, Albemarle Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link

‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that!

‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now.

The above passage was confusing because Hall enclosed the now famous statement in quotation marks. Yet, the elegant phrase depicted Hall’s conception of Voltaire’s internal mental attitude and not his actual spoken words. Indeed, Hall asserted that the words were hers and not Voltaire’s in a 1939 letter published in the journal “Modern Language Notes”. Nevertheless, the misunderstanding persists to this day.

The questioner highlighted a French version of the saying, and QI has located a new matching citation in 1950, but the origin of this French statement remains uncertain. Detailed information is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It

References

References
1 1906, The Friends of Voltaire by S. G. Tallentyre (Actual author: Evelyn Beatrice Hall), Quote Page 198 and 199, Published be John Murray, Albemarle Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link