Tag Archives: Victor Hugo

In a Woman the Flesh Must Be Like Marble; In a Statue the Marble Must Be Like Flesh

Victor Hugo? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am authoring a book that discusses marble, and I’ve found an apposite quotation ascribed to the French literary titan Victor Hugo author of “Les Misérables” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. He employed antimetabole while comparing marble to human flesh. I have not been able to find solid citations in French or English. Would you be willing to help?

Quote Investigator: When Victor Hugo died in 1885 he left his heirs with a bulky copy-book entitled “Post-Scriptum de Ma Vie” (“A Postscript to My Life”). In 1901 a posthumous book emerged, and one section contained a collection of brief miscellaneous thoughts. Here were four in the original French. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Eh mon Dieu! la beauté est diverse. Selon la nature et selon l’art. Si c’est une femme, que la chair soit du marbre, si c’est une statue, que le marbre soit de la chair.

Les méchants envient et haïssent; c’est leur manière d’admirer.

Le savant sait qu’il ignore.

En poussant l’aiguille du cadran vous ne ferez pas avancer l’heure.

Publication of an English translation occurred in 1907 under the title “Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography: Being the Last of the Unpublished Works and Embodying the Author’s Ideas on Literature, Philosophy and Religion”. Here were the four thoughts above rendered in English: 2

Dear God! how beauty varies in nature and art. In a woman the flesh must be like marble; in a statue the marble must be like flesh.

The wicked envy and hate; it is their way of admiring.

The learned man knows that he is ignorant.

By putting forward the hands of the clock you shall not advance the hour.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1901, Post-Scriptum de Ma Vie by Victor Hugo, Quote Page 30, Calmann Lévy, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1907, Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography (Postscriptum de Ma Vie): Being the Last of the Unpublished Works and Embodying the Author’s Ideas on Literature, Philosophy and Religion, Translated by Lorenzo O’Rourke, Chapter: Thoughts, Quote Page 359 and 360, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Melancholy Is the Pleasure of Being Sad

Victor Hugo? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

hugo11Dear Quote Investigator: Melancholy is a complex and sometimes puzzling emotion. The composite nature of the sensation is expressed by the following:

Melancholia is the joy of feeling sad.
Melancholy is the happiness of being sad.
Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.

I believe that this statement was crafted by a prominent author, but I cannot remember his or her name. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1866 the major French literary figure Victor Hugo published “Les Travailleurs de la Mer” which was later released under the English title “The Toilers of the Sea”. This work included the saying under investigation. Here is an excerpt in French followed by a translation from 1888. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Le désespoir a des degrés remontants. De l’accablement on monte à l’abattement, de l’abattement à l’affliction, de l’affliction à la mélancolie. La mélancolie est un crépuscule. La souffrance s’y fond dans une sombre joie.
La mélancolie, c’est le bonheur d’être triste.

Despair has ascending degrees. From prostration one mounts to despondency, from despondency to affliction, from affliction to melancholy. Melancholy is a twilight. Suffering melts into it in sombre joy.
Melancholy is the happiness of being sad.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1866, Les Travailleurs de la Mer by Victor Hugo, (The Toilers of the Sea), Volume 2, Part 3, Section: La Cloche du Port, Quote Page 154, Librairie Internationale, A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1888, The Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo, Translator: Isabel F. Hapgood, Volume 1, Section: The Bell of the Port, Quote Page 196, Published by Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Briefest Correspondence: Question Mark? Exclamation Mark!

Victor Hugo? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?

punctuate07Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular humorous anecdote about an exchange of letters between Victor Hugo and his publisher shortly after the publication of “Les Misérables”. Each message consisted of only a single character. Are you familiar with this story? Recently, I heard a version of the tale with Oscar Wilde replacing Victor Hugo. Would you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The novel “Les Misérables” was published in 1862, and the earliest instance of the Hugo anecdote known to QI appeared in 1892. Details for this citation are given further below. However, the thirty year delay casts doubt on the story. The connection to Oscar Wilde appeared much later.

A similar tale about the exchange of extraordinarily concise messages was printed four decades earlier in April 1850 in “The Nottinghamshire Guardian” paper in Nottinghamshire, England: 1

In the briefest correspondence known, only two figures were used, the first contained a note of interrogation (?), implying “Is there any news?” The answer was a cipher (0), “None.”

After presenting the item above, a different complementary story was told about a message painted on a chimney:

This was clever; but neighbour Shuttleworth, in Nottingham Market Place, beats it. He has on his chimney two large T’s, one painted black the other green, to intimate that he sells black and green tea.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1850 April 25, The Nottinghamshire Guardian, VARIETIES, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Nottinghamshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain

Edmund Burke? Anselme Batbie? Victor Hugo? King Oscar II of Sweden? George Bernard Shaw? François Guizot? Georges Clemenceau? Benjamin Disraeli? Winston Churchill? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: Some individuals change their political orientation as they grow older. There is a family of sayings that present a mordant judgment on this ideological evolution. Here are three examples:

Not to be a républicain at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.

If you’re not a socialist before you’re twenty-five, you have no heart; if you are a socialist after twenty-five, you have no head.

If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you aren’t a middle-aged conservative, you have no head.

Political terminology has changed over time, and it differs in distinct locales. Within the context of these sayings the terms “républicain”, “socialist”, and “liberal” were all on the left of the political spectrum. Would you please explore this complex topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an 1875 French book of contemporary biographical portraits by Jules Claretie. A section about a prominent jurist and academic named Anselme Polycarpe Batbie included the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

M. Batbie, dans une lettre trop célèbre, citait un jour, pour expliquer ses variations personnelles et bizarres, ce paradoxe de Burke: « Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit. »

Here is one possible translation to English.

Mr. Batbie, in a much-celebrated letter, once quoted the Burke paradox in order to account for his bizarre political shifts: “He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.”

Batbie was probably referring to the statesman Edmund Burke who was noted for his support of the American Revolution and later condemnation of the French Revolution. However, QI has not located the quotation under investigation in the writings of Burke. Anselme Batbie lived between 1828 and 1887.

The same quotation with an ascription to Batbie appeared in volume five of the “La Grande Encyclopédie” which was published circa 1888. The title in English of this 31 volume work was “The Great Encyclopedia”, and the statement was printed within the entry for Batbie. 2

This saying is often attributed to the French statesman and historian François Guizot who died in 1874. However, this ascription was based in an entry in “Benham’s Book of Quotations Proverbs and Household Words” which was published many years after the death of Guizot; hence the supporting data is not very strong. Details are given further below in the 1936 citation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1875, Portraits Contemporains by Jules Claretie, Volume: 1, Chapter Topic: M. Casimir Périer, Start Page 51, Quote Page 55, Published by Librairie Illustrée, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. La Grande Encyclopédie: Inventaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Lettres et Des Arts, (The Great Encyclopedia: A Systematic Inventory of Science, Letters, and the Arts), by Société de Savants et de Gens de Lettres, Tome Cinquième (Volume 5), From Bailliébe to Belgiojoso, (Date: the 31 Volumes were published between 1886 and 1902; volume 5 was published circa 1888), Entry: “Batbie, Anselme-Polycarpe”, Start Page 705, Quote Page 705, Column 2, Published by H. Lamirault, Paris. (The quotation was nearly identical: “persévère” in 1875 was expanded to “persévère encore” in 1888)(Google Books Full View) link