God Gave Us the Gift of Life; It Is Up To Us To Give Ourselves the Gift of Living Well

Voltaire? François-Marie Arouet? Jean Orieux? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous writer of the Enlightenment stated that God gave each of us the gift of life. It is our responsibility to take advantage of this gift by living fully and well. Voltaire has received credit for a remark of this type. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) died in 1778. The 1880 edition of “Œuvres complètes de Voltaire” (“Complete Works of Voltaire”) included the following statement in its appendix. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

Dieu nous a donné le vivre; c’est à nous de nous donner le bien vivre.

The 1979 book “Voltaire: A Biography of the Man & His Century” by Jean Orieux contained the following English translation: 2

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. (Remarks)

This statement occurred in a section of the 1880 work called “Extracts from a Manuscript in the Hand of M. de Voltaire”, but QI does not know any details about the provenance of the manuscript. Hence, the accuracy of the attribution to Voltaire depends on the expertise of the 1880 editor of “Œuvres complètes de Voltaire”.

Continue reading God Gave Us the Gift of Life; It Is Up To Us To Give Ourselves the Gift of Living Well

Notes:

  1. 1880, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire (Complete Works of Voltaire), Chapter 9: Extraits D’un Manuscrit de la Main de M. de Voltaire (Extracts From a Manuscript in the Hand of M. de Voltaire), Intitlé Sottisier (Title Foolishness), Appendice (Appendix), Supplément aux oeuvres en prose (Supplement to works in prose), Section: Montaigne, Quote Page 516, Garnier Frères, Libraires-Editeurs, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1979, Voltaire: A Biography of the Man & His Century by Jean Orieux, Translated from French by Barbara Bray and Helen R. Lane, Chapter 5, Quote Page 101, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

How Do You Know That the Earth Isn’t Some Other Planet’s Hell?

Aldous Huxley? George Bernard Shaw? Voltaire? Andy Capp? Reg Smythe? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A dejected literary figure apparently experienced an alarming eschatological revelation:

Maybe this world is another planet’s Hell.

This notion has been credited to English writer Aldous Huxley who penned the classic dystopian novel “Brave New World”. Credit has also been given to playwright George Bernard Shaw. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 Aldous Huxley published the novel “Point Counter Point”. Huxley’s disillusioned intellectual character Maurice Spandrell delivered a line about hell while conversing with a barmaid. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

‘But why should two people be unhappy?’ persisted the barmaid. ‘When it isn’t necessary?’

‘Why shouldn’t they be unhappy?’ Spandrell enquired. ‘Perhaps it’s what they’re here for. How do you know that the earth isn’t some other planet’s hell?’

A positivist, the barmaid laughed. ‘What rot!’

The phrasing above differed from the most common modern version of the quotation, but QI believes that this 1928 citation is the origin of the Huxley attribution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Do You Know That the Earth Isn’t Some Other Planet’s Hell?

Notes:

  1. 1954 (Copyright 1928), Point Counter Point: A Novel by Aldous Huxley, Chapter XVII, Quote Page 306 and 307, Chatto & Windus, London. (Verified with scans)

The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Naval Officer? Voltaire? William Pitt Lennox? Herb Caen? Howard Jacobs? Norman R. Augustine? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When an organization encounters difficulties, and its members experience low morale, it is counterproductive to enforce harsh discipline. This notion can be captured with the following sarcastic remark:

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Close variants of this statement replace the word “beatings” with “whippings” or “floggings”. Would you please explore the provenance of this family of remarks?

Quote Investigator: There are many comical statements containing the phrase “until morale improves”. Some researchers have asserted that instances were circulating during World War II, but QI has found no evidence to support that claim. The saying is difficult to trace because of its mutability. Here is a sampling together with years of occurrence that provides an overview:

  • 1961: . . . all liberty is canceled until morale improves
  • 1964: Layoffs will continue until morale improves
  • 1965: No Beer, Card Playing, Mail Call, . . . until morale improves
  • 1967: . . . no leave until morale improves
  • 1977: Firing will continue until morale improves
  • 1986: . . . cancel all vacations until morale improved
  • 1988: Restructuring will continue until morale improves
  • 1988: The floggings will continue until morale improves
  • 1989: The beatings will continue, until morale improves
  • 1992: The Whippings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

In Etymology Vowels Count for Nothing and Consonants for Very Little

Voltaire? Antoine Court de Gébelin? Louis de Bonald? Edward Moor? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) has often received credit for a humorous remark about the study of language and its evolution. Here are two versions:

  1. In etymology vowels are nothing, and consonants next to nothing.
  2. Etymology is the science where vowels matter naught and consonants hardly at all.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Numerous researchers have been unable to find this statement in the writings of Voltaire who lived between 1694 and 1778. The first attribution to the famous French philosopher known to QI occurred in 1836 which is quite late. See the citation further below.

The earliest thematic match located by QI occurred in a 1775 French book about the origin of language and writing by Antoine Court de Gébelin titled “Monde Primitif, Analysé et Comparé avec le Monde Moderne, Considéré dans l’Histoire Naturelle de la Parole; Ou Origine du Langage et de L’Écriture”. The book presented guiding principles for etymological analysis including the following statement about vowels. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

SIXIÉME PRINCIPE.
Les voyelles ne sont rien dans la comparaison des mots.

Here is one possible rendering in English:

SIXTH PRINCIPLE.
Vowels are nothing in the comparison of words.

The book also proclaimed a principle about consonants that emphasized their mutability. Here is the original French followed by one possible translation:

SEPTIEME PRINCIPE.
Les Consonnes correspondantes ont été sans cesse substituées les unes aux autres, sur-tout celles du même organe.

SEVENTH PRINCIPLE.
The corresponding consonants have been constantly substituted for each other, especially those of the same organ.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading In Etymology Vowels Count for Nothing and Consonants for Very Little

Notes:

  1. 1775 (MDCCLXXV), Title: Monde Primitif, Analysé et Comparé Avec le Monde Moderne, Considéré Dans l’Histoire Naturelle de la Parole; Ou Origine du Langage et de l’Écriture, Author: Antoine Court de Gébelin, (De la Société Economique de Berne & de l’Académie Royale de la Rochelle), Quote Page 47 and 48, Publication: L’Auteur, rue Poupée, maison de M. Boucher, Secrétaire du Roi, Boudet, Imprimeur-Libraire, rue Saint Jacques, etc. (HathiTrust Full View) link

“Coffee Is a Slow Poison” “Slow It Must Be Indeed for I Have Sipped It for Seventy-Five Years”

Voltaire? Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Coffee enthusiasts enjoy sharing an anecdote about Voltaire who savored the aromatic beverage throughout his life. The famous philosopher’s physician warned him that coffee was a slow poison. He replied, “Yes, it is a remarkably slow poison. I have been drinking it every day for more than seventy-five years”.

Curiously, the same humorous tale has been told about the erudite and witty Frenchman Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle although the number of years mentioned was even larger. It seems unlikely that both stories are genuine. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle died in 1757. Voltaire (pen name of François-Marie Arouet) died in 1778.

This anecdote is difficult to trace because its expression is highly variable. The earliest match located by QI occurred in 1780 after both gentlemen were dead within a French almanac titled “Almanach Littéraire ou Étrennes d’Apollon”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Un Médecin soutenait à Fontenelle que le caffé était un poison lent. “Oui-dà, dit le Philosophe en souriant, il y a plus de quatre vingt ans que j’en prends tous les jours. Voilà ce qu’on appelle une preuve sans réplique”.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

A doctor told Fontenelle that coffee was a slow poison. “Yes,” said the philosopher, smiling, “I have been taking it every day for more than eighty years.” This is what is called an unanswerable proof.

Fontenelle received credit for the comical reply, but the long gap after his death reduced the credibility of the ascription. Perhaps future researchers will discover earlier evidence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Coffee Is a Slow Poison” “Slow It Must Be Indeed for I Have Sipped It for Seventy-Five Years”

Notes:

  1. 1780, Title: Almanach Littéraire ou Étrennes d’Apollon, Section: Anecdotes Variées, Quote Page 22, Publisher: La Veuve Duchesne, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View; also Gallica) link

This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Voltaire? Edward Young? George Bernard Shaw? Laird MacKenzie? Elsie McCormick? Bertrand Russell? Kurt Vonnegut? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several thinkers have offered an anguished explanation for the dangerously disordered state of the world. Here are four versions:

  • This world is the lunatic asylum for other planets.
  • Earth is a madhouse for the Universe
  • The other planets use Earth as an insane asylum.
  • Our world is bedlam for other worlds.

This notion has been credited to Mark Twain, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, George Bernard Shaw and others. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex topic; hence, QI will split the response into three articles; an article centered on Voltaire’s quotation is available here; an article centered on George Bernard Shaw’s quotation is available here; the overview article is presented below.

A thematic match occurred in a lengthy work by the English poet Edward Young. The poem was called “The Complaint, Or, Night-thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality”, and it was split into a sequence of numbered “Nights”. The expression appeared in “Night Nine” which was serialized in “The Scots Magazine” in 1747. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But what are we? You never heard of Man,
Or Earth; the Bedlam of the universe!
Where Reason, undiseas’d with you, runs mad,
And nurses Folly’s children as her own;

Voltaire wrote a story “Memnon ou La Sagesse Humaine” (“Memnon or Human Wisdom”) in the late 1740s and published it by 1749. The main character Memnon mentions Earth’s place in the universe. Here is an English translation from 1807: 2

“I am afraid,” said Memnon, “that our little terraqueous globe here is the mad-house of those hundred thousand millions of worlds, of which your Lordship does me the honour to speak.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

Notes:

  1. 1747 May, The Scots Magazine, Volume 9, Section: Poetical Essays, The Complaint, Night 9 and Last: The Consolation, (by Edward Young), Continuation of Complaint, Night 9, Start Page 221, Quote Page 225, Printed by W. Sands, A. Murray, and J. Cochran, Edinburgh, Scotland. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1807, Classic Tales: Serious and Lively, Volume 2, Voltaire, Story: Memnon the Philosopher; or Human Wisdom, Start Page 181, Quote Page 188 and 189, Printed and Published by and for John Hunt & Carew Reynell, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Our Little Terraqueous Globe Here Is the Madhouse of Those Hundred Thousand Millions of Worlds

Voltaire? Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle? Edward Young? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous French philosopher and satirist Voltaire apparently wrote a story in which the universe consisted of millions of worlds, and Earth was designated a peculiar place:

Our little globe is the lunatic ward of the universe.

Would you please help me to find this story and determine precisely what Voltaire wrote?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex topic; hence, QI will split the response into three articles; the overview article is available at this link; the article centered on George Bernard Shaw’s quotation is available at this link; the article centered on Voltaire’s quotation is the one you are currently reading.

Voltaire wrote a story “Memnon ou La Sagesse Humaine” (“Memnon or Human Wisdom”) in the late 1740s and published it by 1749. The main character Memnon decides to become a great/perfect philosopher. Sadly, his quest results in a series of disasters that leave him impoverished and physically injured. He then meets an extraterrestrial being who gives him advice and insight. The being tells Memnon to stop his philosophical quest, and he discusses Earth’s place in the universe. Here is an English translation from 1807. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

“Is it then impossible?” said Memnon.

“As impossible as to be perfectly wise, perfectly strong, perfectly powerful, perfectly happy. We ourselves are very far from it. There is a world indeed where all this takes place; but in the hundred thousand millions of worlds dispersed over the regions of space, every thing goes on by degrees. There is less philosophy and less enjoyment in the second than in the first, less in the third than in the second, and so forth till the last in the scale, where all are completely fools.”

“I am afraid,” said Memnon, “that our little terraqueous globe here is the mad-house of those hundred thousand millions of worlds, of which your Lordship does me the honour to speak.”

“Not quite,” said the spirit, “but very nearly: every thing must be in its proper place.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Our Little Terraqueous Globe Here Is the Madhouse of Those Hundred Thousand Millions of Worlds

Notes:

  1. 1807, Classic Tales: Serious and Lively, Volume 2, Voltaire, Story: Memnon the Philosopher; or Human Wisdom, Start Page 181, Quote Page 188 and 189, Printed and Published by and for John Hunt & Carew Reynell, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Life Is a Shipwreck, But We Must Not Forget To Sing in the Lifeboats

Voltaire? Peter Gay? William F. Bottiglia? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many dubious quotations have been ascribed to the preeminent French satirist and philosopher Voltaire. One popular saying depicts life as a metaphorical shipwreck. The survivors are exhorted to sing while sitting in the lifeboats. Is this saccharine guidance really from the acrid pen of Voltaire?

I have also seen the words credited to a fictional character named Bottiglia. Does that ascription make sense?

Quote Investigator: Voltaire did employ the shipwreck metaphor in his letters; for example, in 1760 he wrote: 1

Comptez que le monde est un grand naufrage, et que la devise des hommes est, sauve qui peut.

Here is one possible translation: 2

The world, my friend, is one great shipwreck: and man’s motto, “Save yourself if you can.”

Voltaire’s remark did not mention lifeboats or singing; thus, his tone was quite different.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in 1963 within the introductory section of “Voltaire’s Candide: A Bilingual Edition”. Professor of History Peter Gay performed the translation of “Candide” from French to English, and he also wrote the introduction which contained the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Indeed, Voltaire preached—by example rather than by precept—that the recognition of the truth that this world is filled with evils leads to a certain good humor. If this life is a desert, it is our duty to make an oasis in it; if this life is a shipwreck, we must rescue as many as we can, and not forget to sing in the lifeboats. This, I think, is the message of Candide; its continuing popularity rests not only on its wit, its pace, its color, but also on its enduring relevance.

In 1966 Peter Gay restated his analysis of “Candide” within his book “The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism”. Gay reprinted the final line of Voltaire’s satirical tale: “That’s well said, but we must cultivate our garden”, and he added the following commentary: 4

Here, in that concluding sentence of the tale, Voltaire has fused the lessons of ancient philosophy into a prescription: Men are thrown into the world to suffer and to dominate their suffering. Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats; life is a desert, but we can transform our corner into a garden.

Thus, the quotation under examination was crafted by Peter Gay who was presenting his interpretation of the central thesis of Voltaire’s story “Candide”. The misattribution illustrates a known error mechanism. Person A summarizes, condenses, or restates the opinion of person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to person B.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is a Shipwreck, But We Must Not Forget To Sing in the Lifeboats

Notes:

  1. 1785, Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire, Tome Cinquante-Sixième, Letter CLXXXVIII, From: Voltaire, To: M. Le Chevalier de R___X, à Toulouse, Date: 1760, 20 de Septembre, Start Page 376, Quote Page 377, De L’Imprimerie de la Société Littéraire-Typographique. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1773, Letters from M. de Voltaire to Several of His Friends, Translated from the French by The Reverend Dr. Franklin, (Thomas Francklin, D.D., Rector of Brasted), Second Edition, Letter XXXI, From: Voltaire, To: Mr. the Chevalier de R___X, at Toulouse, Date: Sept. 20, 1760, Start Page 183, Quote Page 184, Printed for T. Davies, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1963, Voltaire’s Candide: A Bilingual Edition by Voltaire, Translated and Edited by Peter Gay, Introduction by Peter Gay, Start Page v, Quote Page xxvi, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Seventh Printing 1981) (Verified with hardcopy)
  4. 1966, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism by Peter Gay, Book One: The Appeal to Antiquity, Chapter Three: The Climate of Criticism, Quote Page 201, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)

He Is a Modest Man Who Has a Great Deal To Be Modest About

Winston Churchill? Voltaire? Julian Amery? Ronald Reagan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a political rival of Winston Churchill was once praised with the description “He is a modest man.” Churchill responded with the quip “He has much to be modest about.” Would you please investigate this tale?

Quote Investigator: Clement Attlee became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in July 1945. In December 1945 “The New York Times” printed a group of anecdotes that were circulating in newspapers and diplomatic circles in London. One tale was about Attlee. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Although some quarters contend that the Labor Government has gone too far too fast in instituting reforms, a considerable bloc of Prime Minister Attlee’s supporters is frankly disappointed. That explains this observation, now making the rounds: “Attlee is a modest man who has a great deal to be modest about.”

The originator of the barb was unidentified although the prefatory words suggested that the critic wished to see more reforms from Attlee’s administration whereas Churchill opposed those reforms. The phrasing of the remark has been variable, and an instance was ascribed to Churchill by April 1947 in a Canadian newspaper.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Is a Modest Man Who Has a Great Deal To Be Modest About

Notes:

  1. 1945 December 9, The New York Times, Section: New York Times Magazine, What London Is Laughing At, Quote Page 21, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)

What Is History But a Fable Agreed Upon?

Napoléon Bonaparte? Voltaire? Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle? Claude Adrien Helvétius? Wendell Phillips? Ralph Waldo Emerson?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular skeptical viewpoint about history can be expressed in a few different ways:

1) What is history but a fable agreed upon?
2) History is a set of lies agreed upon.
3) History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon.

These cynical adages have been linked to several major figures including: the military and political leader Napoléon Bonaparte, the French philosopher and firebrand Voltaire (pen name of François-Marie Arouet), and the author and wit Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest pertinent evidence known to QI appeared in a 1724 essay about historiography titled “L’Origine des Fables” (“Of the Origin of Fables”) by Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. The French excerpt below from a 1728 collection is followed by a translation into English. Boldface has been added: 1 2

A quel dessein nous l’auroit-on donné pour faux? Quel auroit été cet amour des hommes pour des faussetés manifestes & ridicules, & pourquoi ne dureroit-il plus? Car les Fables des Grecs n’étoient pas comme nos Romans qu’on nous donne pour ce qu’ils sont, & non pas pour des Histoires; il n’y a point d’autres Histoires anciennes que les Fables.

Why would they have bequeathed us a mass of falsehoods? What could this love of men for manifest and ridiculous falsehood, have been, and why did it not last longer? For the Greek fables were not like our novels, which are intended as stories and not as histories; there are no ancient histories other than these fables.

Fontenelle’s comment above provided only a partial match to the saying under examination. He was referring to ancient history and not all history. Nevertheless, prominent figures such as the French philosopher Claude Adrien Helvétius and Voltaire ascribed the adage to Fontenelle. Perhaps Fontenelle wrote or spoke an expression that provided a closer match elsewhere, but QI has not yet located it.

Many years later Napoléon Bonaparte used an instance of the saying, but he disclaimed credit. The transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson also used an instance, but he credited Napoléon. The well-known orator Wendell Phillips employed a version with the word “lies” in 1881. Detailed illustrations for these assertions are given in the chronological citations below.

QI thanks previous researchers on this topic including Fred R. Shapiro, editor of “The Yale Book of Quotations”, Professor William C. Waterhouse, and Barry Popik.

Continue reading What Is History But a Fable Agreed Upon?

Notes:

  1. 1728, Oeuvres Diverses by M. De de Fontenelle, (Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle), Volume 1, De L’Origine des Fables, Start Page 329, Quote Page 329, A La Haye, Chez Gosse & Neaulme. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1961, French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, Selected and edited by Leonard M. Marsak (Leonard Mendes Marsak), The Origin of Myths by Bernard de Fontenelle, Start Page 108, Quote Page 108, Meridian Books: The World Publishing Company, Cleveland, Ohio. (Verified on paper)