I Prefer an Injurious Truth To a Useful Error. Truth Heals Any Pain It May Inflict On Us

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Thomas Mann? André Gide? Arthur Koestler? Garrett Hardin? Horace Mann? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Sometimes a truthful statement can undermine a cherished belief and provide comfort to an adversary. Thus, it is tempting to embrace an untruthful statement that provides temporary solace. Yet, accepting uncomfortable truths leads to personal growth, whereas accepting errors and lies fails terribly over time. Here are three instances from a family of sayings:

  • An injurious truth is better than a useful error.
  • A harmful truth is better than a useful lie.
  • A destructive truth is preferable to a constructive error.

These expressions have been attributed to two prominent German literary figures Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Thomas Mann. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1787 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a letter to Charlotte von Stein which included a discussion of this concept. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Es ist nichts groß als das Wahre und das kleinste Wahre ist groß. Ich kam neulich auf einen Gedancken der mich sagen ließ: auch eine schädliche Wahrheit ist nützlich, weil sie nur Augenblicke schädlich seyn kann und alsdann zu andern Wahrheiten führt, die immer nützlich und sehr nützlich werden müßen und umgekehrt ist ein nützlicher Irrthum schädlich weil er es nur augenblicklich seyn kann und in andre Irrthümer verleitet die immer schädlicher werden.

Translator Heinz Norden rendered the above passage into English for the book “Goethe’s World View” in 1963: 2

Nothing is great but truth, and the smallest truth is great. The other day I had a thought, which I put like this: Even a harmful truth is useful, for it can be harmful only for the moment and will lead to other truths, which must always become useful, very much so. Conversely, even a useful error is harmful, for it can be useful only for the moment, enticing us into other errors, which become more and more harmful.

Goethe formulated a more compact version of this idea which was reprinted in “Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung” (“General Literature Newspaper”) in 1801: 3

Schädliche Wahrheit, ich ziehe sie vor dem nützlichen Irrthum;
Wahrheit heilet den Schmerz, den sie vielleicht uns erregt.

Penguin Books published an English translation of the above statements in 1964: 4

I prefer an injurious truth to a useful error.
Truth heals any pain it may inflict on us.

Below are additional selected citations and comments.

Continue reading I Prefer an Injurious Truth To a Useful Error. Truth Heals Any Pain It May Inflict On Us

Notes:

  1. 1902, Title: Goethe-Briefe: Mit Einleitungen und Erläuterungen, (Goethe’s Letters: With Introductions and Explanations), Volume 3: Wiemar und Italien 1784-1792, Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Editor: Philipp Stein, (Letter dated June 8, 1787 from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Charlotte von Stein), Start Page: 163, Quote Page: 165, Publisher: von Otto Eisner, Berlin (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1963, Goethe’s World View: Presented in His Reflections and Maxims by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Edited with an Introduction by Frederick Ungar, Translated by Heinz Norden, (Untitled passage), Quote Page 72 and 73, Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  3. 1801 January, Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (General Literature Newspaper), Number 2, Schöne Künste (Fine Arts): (Review of Göthe’s neue Schriften: 1795-1800 (Göthe’s new writings)), Quote Number 50, Start Column 9, Quote Column 15, Jena, in der Expedition dieser Zeitung. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1986 (1964 Copyright), Goethe Selected Verse, Introduced and Edited by David Luke, Section: Vier Jahreszeiten (The Four Seasons), Quote Page 130, Penguin Classics: Penguin Books, New York. Verified with scans)

Tell Me What Company You Keep, and I Will Tell You What You Are

Miguel de Cervantes? Don Quixote? Sancho Panza? Lord Chesterfield? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Joseph Hordern? Anonymous?

Don Quixote and Sancho PanzaDear Quote Investigator: If you are attempting to assess the character of an individual you can do it indirectly by identifying his or her friends and assessing their proclivities. Here are three versions of a pertinent saying:

  1. Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.
  2. Tell me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are.
  3. By the company you keep I can tell what life you lead.

Would you please explore the provenance of this family of expressions?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the influential Spanish novel “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes which appeared in two parts published in 1605 and 1615. The Spanish title was “Ingenioso Cavallero Don Qvixote de la Mancha” (“Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha”). The second part in 1615 included the following passage using non-standard spelling. The saying was spoken by Sancho Panza who was the faithful servant and squire of the main character Don Quixote. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

A qui encaxa bien el refran, dixo Sancho, de dime, con quien andas, dezirte he quien eres . . .

Here is a slightly longer passage from an English translation by Charles Jarvis published in 1749. The statement above is included in the rendering below. The phrase “your worship” corresponds to Don Quixote in this context: 2

Here, quoth Sancho, the proverb hits right, Tell me your company, and I will tell you what you are. If your worship keeps company with those who fast and watch, what wonder is it that you neither eat nor sleep while you are with them?

Miguel de Cervantes disclaimed credit for the saying by calling it proverbial; thus, it was already circulating in Spanish before 1615.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tell Me What Company You Keep, and I Will Tell You What You Are

Notes:

  1. 1615, Title: Ingenioso Cavallero Don Qvixote de la Mancha (Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha), Author: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Part: Segvnda Parte (Second Part), Capitulo 23 (Chapter 23), Quote on page 89 after and before unnumbered pages, Publication Data: Con privilegió, en Madrid, por Iuan de la Cuesta. (1905, Facsimile reprint by the Hispanic Society of America, New York) (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1749, The Life and Exploits of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Translated by Charles Jarvis, Volume 2, Second Edition, Quote Page 134 and 135, Printed for J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, London. (Google Books Full View) link

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.

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

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

I Have Come to a Frightening Conclusion. I Am the Decisive Element in the Classroom

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Haim G. Ginott? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The major German literary figure Goethe has received credit for a passage that begins:

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

I have not found any solid ascriptions to Goethe in German or English. Oddly, a similar remark has been attributed to the educator and psychologist Haim G. Ginott. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe crafted this quotation. He died in 1832 and received credit in a message posted to the Usenet discussion system in 1998.

In 1972 Haim G. Ginott published “Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers”, and the preface contained a series of memorably vivid statements that have been widely repeated with occasional garbling. Ginott stated that he composed the remarks when he was a young teacher, and they summed up the book’s philosophy: 1

I have come to a frightening conclusion.
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.

QI has placed each sentence on a separate line for readability, but in the book they are combined into a single paragraph. This extensive excerpt has been reproduced here for research and educational purposes.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Have Come to a Frightening Conclusion. I Am the Decisive Element in the Classroom

Notes:

  1. 1972, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers by Dr. Haim G. Ginott, Chapter: Preface, Quote Page 15, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

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)

One Sees What One Carries In One’s Own Heart

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Anais Nin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During a Rorschach test a patient is shown a series of ambiguous inkblots and his or her reactions and interpretations are recorded. This assessment reminds me of an adage. Here are two versions:

  • You see in the world what you carry in your heart.
  • They will see what they carry in their own heart.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: There is a strong match in the work “Faust” by the major German literary figure Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The dramatic poem begins with a prelude scene featuring a director, a poet, and a comedian. The following excerpt is an English prose translation of German verses spoken by the comedian. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Then assembles youth’s fairest flower to see your play, and listens to the revelation. Then every gentle mind sucks melancholy nourishment for itself from out your work; then one while this, and one while that, is stirred up; each one sees what he carries in his heart.

“Faust Part One” was published in 1808. The translation above from A. Hayward appeared in 1851.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading One Sees What One Carries In One’s Own Heart

Notes:

  1. 1851, Faust: A Dramatic Poem by Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), Translation by A. Hayward, Third Edition, Prologue for the Theatre, Speaker: Merryman, Quote Page 33, Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Attribute to Malice That Which Is Adequately Explained by Stupidity

Robert Heinlein? Napoleon Bonaparte? Ayn Rand? David Hume? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Robert J. Hanlon? Arthur Cushman McGiffert? William James Laidlay? Ernst Haeckel? Thomas F. Woodlock? Nick Diamos?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is easy to impute hostility to the actions of others when a situation is actually unclear. A popular insightful adage attempts to constrain this type of bitter speculation. Here are two versions:

  1. Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by stupidity
  2. Don’t ascribe to malice what can be plainly explained by incompetence.

This notion has been attributed to military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, to science fiction author Robert Heinlein, and to others.  It is often called “Hanlon’s Razor”. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for ascribing the statement to Napoleon Bonaparte. Robert Heinlein did include a thematically similar remark in a 1941 short story.

The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the 1980 compilation “Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong” edited by Arthur Bloch. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

HANLON’S RAZOR:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

The description “Hanlon’s Razor” was used because the creator was a computer programmer named Robert J. Hanlon. The phrase “Hanlon’s Razor” was analogous to the phrase “Occam’s Razor”. Both referred to heuristics designed to prune sets of hypotheses by favoring simplicity. More details about Hanlon are presented further below based on the research conducted by quotation expert Mardy Grothe appearing in the 2011 book “Neverisms”.

Many people have expressed similar thoughts over the years and additional selected citations in chronological order are shown below.

Continue reading Never Attribute to Malice That Which Is Adequately Explained by Stupidity

Notes:

  1. 1980, Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong, Compiled and Edited by Arthur Bloch, Quote Page 52, Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers Inc., Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)

What You Get By Reaching Your Goals Is Not Nearly So Important As What You Become By Reaching Them

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Henry David Thoreau? Zig Ziglar?

achieve08Dear Quote Investigator: Many self-help and inspirational books contain this guidance:

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

These words have been ascribed to three disparate individuals: German literary titan Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famed transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and popular motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Goethe or Thoreau employed this expression.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the curiously titled 1974 book “Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles” by Zig Ziglar. One section of the work discussed the necessity of formulating and striving for goals. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I want to emphasize that what you get by reaching your goals is not nearly so important as what you become by reaching them. What about you? Are you sold on the necessity of having goals?

The phrasing above differed from the common modern instance, e.g., the word “reaching” appeared instead of “achieving”. Nevertheless, the statement provided a strong semantic match.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading What You Get By Reaching Your Goals Is Not Nearly So Important As What You Become By Reaching Them

Notes:

  1. 1974, Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles by Zig Ziglar, Segment 4: Goals, Chapter 4: Reaching Your Goals, Quote Page 171, Published by Update Division of Crescendo Publications, Dallas, Texas. (Verified with scans)

Nine Requisites for Contented Living

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? William D. Smith? Anonymous?

health11Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has been credited with the following group of expressions called: The Nine Requisites for Contented Living:

(1) Health enough to make work a pleasure.
(2) Wealth enough to support your needs.
(3) Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them.
(4) Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.
(5) Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.
(6) Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor.
(7) Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.
(8) Faith enough to make real the things of God.
(9) Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.

I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found any substantive ascriptions to Goethe who died in 1832. The spurious connection may have been established by the misreading of an ambiguous passage published in 1914. Details are given further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an article titled “A New Year’s Greeting” by Reverend William D. Smith that was printed in a religious periodical called “The Christian Work and Evangelist” in January 1904. In the following passage alphabetical labels and boldface have been added to facilitate the comparison of the two sets of expressions. In addition, the text has been reformatted into multiple separate lines instead of three paragraphs. If you wish to see the original 1904 format please click on the link in the bibliographical note: 1

(A) I wish you Health enough to make work a pleasure;
(B) Wealth enough to supply all necessary needs;
(C) Grit enough to battle with difficulty and overcome it;
(D) Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them;
(E) and Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.

(F) I wish you a Cheerfulness that shall make others glad;
(G) a Charity that shall see some good in your neighbor;
(H) a Love that shall move you to be useful and helpful;
(I) a Faith that shall make real the things of God;
(J) and a Hope that shall remove all anxious fear concerning the Future.

(K) I wish you the Dignity which befits the children of God;
(L) the Humility which is needed in every follower of Christ;
(M) the Prayerfulness which develops and enriches the soul;
(N) the Push and Progress which were manifested in the life and labors of our Saviour;
(O) and the Piety and Perseverance which come from the abiding presence and influence of the Divine Spirit.

In the text above there were fifteen elements instead of nine, but a close correspondence can be established between the two sets. 1 and A both discussed Health; 2 and B discussed Wealth; 3 and C matched, but they employed two different terms: Strength and Grit; 4 and D discussed Grace; 5 and E discussed Patience; there was no match for F which discussed Cheerfulness; 6 and G discussed Charity; 7 and H discussed Love; 8 and I discussed Faith; 9 and J discussed Hope; there were no matches for the remaining items K, L, M, N, and O.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nine Requisites for Contented Living

Notes:

  1. 1904 January 9, The Christian Work and Evangelist, Volume 76, A New Year’s Greeting by Rev. William D. Smith, Quote Page 41, Christian Work and the Evangelist, Bible House, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

What You Can Do, or Dream You Can, Begin It; Boldness Has Genius, Power, and Magic in It

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? John Anster? William Hutchison Murray? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful quotation about the pivotal step of making a commitment to an enterprise:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

These two lines are often attributed to the great German playwright and thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. There are different versions of the quotation and some contain the following:

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. . .

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1835 an Irish poet named John Anster published a translation of Part One of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic masterwork “Faust”. Anster’s interpretation was free and poetical; thus, some pieces did not directly align with the German text written by Goethe. The passage below was from a section titled “Prelude at the Theatre” (Vorspiel auf dem Theater) and was spoken by a character called “Manager” (Direktor). Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Strong drink is what we want to gull the people,
A hearty, brisk, and animating tipple;
Come, come, no more delay, no more excuses,
The stuff we ask you for, at once produce us.
Lose this day loitering—’twill be the same story
To-morrow–and the next more dilatory;
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? seize this very minute–
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!

Anster wrote the phrase “What you can do” and not “Whatever you can do” which has become common in modern times. QI believes that the lines above should be credited to Anster with an inspiration from the words of Goethe.

The passage containing the word “hesitancy” that was also mentioned by the questioner was from neither Goethe nor Anster. An explanation is given together with the 1951 citation presented further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What You Can Do, or Dream You Can, Begin It; Boldness Has Genius, Power, and Magic in It

Notes:

  1. 1835, Faustus, A Dramatic Mystery; The Bride of Corinth; The First Walpurgis Night, Translated from the German of Goethe, and Illustrated with Notes by John Anster, Section: Prelude at the Theatre, (Spoken by Manager), Quote Page 15, Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, London. (Google Books Full View) link