A Hero Is No Braver Than an Ordinary Person, But the Hero Is Brave Five Minutes Longer

Marcel Proust? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Lord Palmerston? Duke of Wellington? Japanese Proverb? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The difference between demonstrating bravery and cowardice can be surprisingly small. Perseverance under extreme duress can lead to success. Here are three instances from a family of sayings about heroism and tenacity:

  1. A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.
  2. Victory is on the side that can hold out a quarter of an hour longer than the other.
  3. The conquering soldier is not braver than the soldiers of other countries, but he is brave ten minutes longer.

This saying has been attributed to the transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and the British military leader Arthur Wellesley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the May 1878 issue of a London periodical called the “Temple Bar”. An unnamed author penned a statement above bravery which was prefaced with a remark about success in the sport of fencing. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

If you can hit a man two inches farther than he can hit you, you are, in the truthful language of the “Fancy,” his better man physically. ‘Tis the same morally: all men are brave, but if one man is brave two minutes longer than the other he has a decided advantage.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Hero Is No Braver Than an Ordinary Person, But the Hero Is Brave Five Minutes Longer

Notes:

  1. 1878 May, Temple Bar: A London Magazine, Volume 53, Sticks, Stocks and Stones: Arma Virumque Cano, Start Page 50, Quote Page 54, Richard Bentley & Son, London.(Google Books Full View) link

Believe Those Who Are Seeking the Truth; Doubt Those Who Find It

Václav Havel? André Gide? François Truffaut? Marcel Proust? John Dingell Sr.? Luis Buñuel? Amanda Palmer? Voltaire? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a provocative saying about leadership, discipleship, and the search for truth that is commonly attributed to the Czech statesman Václav Havel who passed away in 2011. Here are two versions:

Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.

Seek the company of those who search for truth; run from those who have found it.

Although I have connected these statements to Havel for years I recently began to doubt the ascription. I have been unable locate solid information about its provenance. Would you be willing to attempt to trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: A large and diverse set of expressions can be grouped together naturally with the two sayings presented by the questioner. Below are nine examples labeled with their years of publication. This exploration was conducted primarily using databases of English text, hence it was incomplete. Only the keystone first expression from Nobel laureate André Gide is listed here in French:

1952: Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent.

1959: Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

1971: Love those who seek the truth; beware of those who find it.

1974: Love those who seek the truth; distrust those who have found it.

1980: Follow the man who seeks the truth. Shun the one who claims to have found it.

1986: Lead me to those who seek the truth, and deliver me from those who’ve found it.

2007: Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.

2009: Honour those who seek the truth, but beware of those who’ve found it.

2010: I love the man who seeks the truth and hate the man who claims to have it.

In 1952 “Ainsi Soit-Il, Ou Les Jeux Sont Faits” by André Gide was released in France. The title in English was “So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down”. The following statement was included in the book: 1

Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent; doutez de tout; mais ne doutez pas de vous-mêmes.

In 1959 a translation of Gide’s volume to English by Justin O’Brien was created. Here is an extended excerpt. Boldface has been added to the excerpts below. In this passage the boldface corresponds to the French text immediately above: 2

I resist giving advice; and in a discussion I beat a hasty retreat. But I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don’t know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself. There is more light in Christ’s words than in any other human word. This is not enough, it seems, to be a Christian: in addition, one must believe. Well, I do not believe. Having said this, I am your brother.

QI hypothesizes that the other eight statements above were derived directly or indirectly from the words of Gide. The second statement labeled 1959 is simply the translation created by O’Brien.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Believe Those Who Are Seeking the Truth; Doubt Those Who Find It

Notes:

  1. 1953 October, The French Review, Volume 27, Number 1, André Gide-deux ans après sa mort, II by Lucien Wolff, Start Page 6, Quote Page 8, Published by American Association of Teachers of French. (JSTOR) link
  2. 1959 copyright (1960 edition), So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down (Ainsi Soit-Il, Ou Les Jeux Sont Faits) by André Gide, Translated from French to English by Justin O’Brien, Quote Page 146, Chatto & Windus, London. (Verified on paper)