Imagination Rules the World

Napoleon Bonaparte? Blaise Pascal? Emmanuel Comte de Las Cases? Hugh Henry Brackenridge? Irving Babbitt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The French military and political leader Napoléon Bonaparte has received credit for a statement about vision. Here are two versions in English:

  • Imagination rules the world.
  • Imagination governs the world.

Is this attribution genuine? Would you please help me to find a citation in French?

Quote Investigator: Napoléon Bonaparte surrendered to the British and was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in 1815 where he died in 1821. Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases met regularly with the ex-emperor, and he took notes of conversations. The popular work “Mémorial de Sainte Hélène: Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena” was released and translated into English in 1823.

Within a section dated January 1816 Las Cases described meetings with sailors who expressed the highest admiration and good wishes for Napoléon. The statesman observed that the sailors did not really know him, and their intense feelings were based on imagination. Below is an excerpt in French 1 followed by a rendering into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Voilà des gens qui ne me connaissaient point, qui ne m’avaient jamais vu, seulement ils avaient entendu parler de moi; et que ne sentent-ils pas, que ne feraient-ils pas en ma faveur! Et la même bizarrerie se renouvelle dans tous les pays, dans tous les âges, dans tous les sexes! Voilà le fanatisme! Oui, l’imagination gouverne le monde!”

He then said, “See the effect of imagination? How powerful is its influence! Here are people who do not know me–who have never seen me; they have only heard me spoken of; and what do they not feel! what would they not do to serve me! And the same caprice is to be found in all countries, in all ages, and in both sexes! This is fanaticism! Yes, imagination rules the world!”

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading Imagination Rules the World


  1. 1823, Mémorial de Sainte Hélène: Journal de la Vie Privée et des Conversations de l’Empereur Napoléon, à Sainte Hélène par Le Comte de Las Cases, Tome 1 (Volume 1), Seconde Partif (Part 2), Date: January 1816, Quote Page 110, Chez Henri Colburn et Co., Londres. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1823, Memorial de Sainte Helene: Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena by The Count De las Cases, Volume 1 and 2, Date: January 1816, Section: Life at Longwood, Start Page 249, Quote Page 255, Printed by Thomas Smith, Lexington, K. (Google Books Full View) link

There Is No Expedient to which a Man Will Not Resort to Avoid the Real Labor of Thinking

Thomas Edison? Joshua Reynolds? Irving Babbitt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A piquant statement about mental laziness is attributed to the inventor and research laboratory pioneer Thomas A. Edison. Here are two versions:

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.

There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.

This expression is also attributed to the prominent English painter Joshua Reynolds. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In the eighteenth century Joshua Reynolds was the most successful portrait painter in England, and he was selected to be the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Between 1769 and 1790 Reynolds delivered an influential series of Discourses about art. 1 The Twelfth Discourse contained a prolix statement with a meaning that largely matched the adage under investigation.

Through a multistep process the expression of Reynolds was greatly simplified and condensed to yield a much pithier statement. This new phrase was reassigned directly to Reynolds by 1914. Thomas Edison saw a concise instance and was impressed enough to choose it as an admonitory didactic motto for his organization. By 1921 Edison had decided to have placards placed on the walls of his plant in Orange, New Jersey displaying the saying together with an ascription to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Later writers elided the name of Reynolds and attributed the words to Edison.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is No Expedient to which a Man Will Not Resort to Avoid the Real Labor of Thinking


  1. The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Seventh edition) by Dinah Birch, Entry: Sir Joshua Reynolds (1701—1779), Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford Reference Online. (Accessed May 15, 2014)