Seek Happiness in Tranquility and Avoid Ambition

Mary Shelley? Victor Frankenstein? Scott Galloway? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: English author Mary Shelley penned the famous science fiction novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”. The overweening ambition of the main character, scientist Victor Frankenstein, caused him to create a monster. He learned bitterly that his passion for success and fame was destructive. Apparently, his dying words were a powerful injunction to avoid ambition. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein” in 1818. Victor Frankenstein’s final conversation occurs with Robert Walton, the captain of a ship which is on a dangerous journey toward the North Pole. Crewmembers of the ship discover an exhausted and gaunt Victor floating on a block of ice. After Victor partially recovers his health he proceeds to tell the captain his tragic saga. Below are Victor’s last words before expiring. This passage uses the British spelling: “tranquillity”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1818, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 3 of 3, Chapter 7, Quote Page 177, Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, London. (Google … Continue reading

“The forms of the beloved dead flit before me, and I hasten to their arms. Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.”

Oddly, Victor’s final two sentences seem to undercut the admonition to avoid ambition. Victor’s ambivalence reflects the complexity of his character. Mary Shelley did not wish to enforce a single meaning for her sophisticated fable. The framing tale of Captain Robert Walton’s perilous voyage illustrates a counterpoint to Victor’s story. Walton decides to halt his expedition. Thus, Walton selects safety over ambition.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Seek Happiness in Tranquility and Avoid Ambition

References

References
1 1818, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 3 of 3, Chapter 7, Quote Page 177, Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Nothing Contributes So Much To Tranquillize the Mind As a Steady Purpose,—a Point On Which the Soul May Fix Its Intellectual Eye

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Robert Walton? Victor Frankenstein? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Finding a goal or purpose to strive for in life is wonderfully helpful; uncertainty and anxiety are replaced by mental tranquility. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who authored the groundbreaking science fiction novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” once made this point. Would you please help me to find citation?

Quote Investigator: Shelley’s “Frankenstein” begins with the text of a letter from the explorer Robert Walton to his sister. The fictional Walton is leading an expedition toward the North Pole while hoping to make a major discovery such as a navigable passage connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1818, Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 1 of 3, Letter 1, To: Mrs. Saville, England, Location: St. Petersburgh, Date: Dec. 11, 17–, Start Page 1, … Continue reading

These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose,—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole.

The 1818 edition employed the spelling “tranquillize”. Variant spellings include: tranquillise, tranquilize, and tranquilise.

Walton’s crew discover a man on a sledge who is nearly dead. The man is nursed back to health, and Shelley switches the narration of the novel. The rescued man is the ill-fated scientist Victor Frankenstein, and he recounts the rest of the tale.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing Contributes So Much To Tranquillize the Mind As a Steady Purpose,—a Point On Which the Soul May Fix Its Intellectual Eye

References

References
1 1818, Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 1 of 3, Letter 1, To: Mrs. Saville, England, Location: St. Petersburgh, Date: Dec. 11, 17–, Start Page 1, Quote Page 4, Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, London. (Google Books Full View) link
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