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)

Deathbed Remark: This Is No Time To Be Making New Enemies

Voltaire? Niccolò Machiavelli? Wilson Mizner? Dying Irishman? Canny Scot? Aging Rock Star? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading speeches given by Nobel Prize recipients I came across an entertaining anecdote about Voltaire from the eminent economist Robert E. Lucas: 1

When Voltaire was dying, in his eighties, a priest in attendance called upon him to renounce the devil. Voltaire considered his advice, but decided not to follow it. “This is no time,” he said, “to be making new enemies”. In this same spirit, I offer my thanks and good wishes to the Bank of Sweden, to the Nobel Committee, and to everyone involved in this wonderful occasion.

Reports of deathbed pronouncements are notoriously inaccurate, and the speaker was probably knowingly presenting a lighthearted fanciful tale. I have heard the same story told about the famous political schemer Niccolò Machiavelli. Could you explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this joke known to QI was published in April 1856, and the person lying on the deathbed was not famous. The jocular tale was told in a Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper and featured a generic Irishman: 2

You remind me of a dying Irishman, who was asked by his confessor if he was ready to renounce the devil and his works ‘Oh, your honor,’ said Pat, ‘don’t ask me that; I’m going into a strange country, and I don’t want to make myself enemies!’

This popular account was printed in multiple newspapers and periodicals in the following years, e.g., The Nebraskian of Omaha, Nebraska in August 1856; 3 the Boston Investigator of Boston, Massachusetts in August 1856; 4 the Chicago Daily Tribune of Chicago, Illinois in July 1857; 5 and the Saturday Evening Post of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in March 1860. 6

Over the decades the identity of the main character has shifted between: an Irishman, a Scotsman, Wilson Mizner, Voltaire, Niccolò Machiavelli, an aging rock luminary, and others.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Deathbed Remark: This Is No Time To Be Making New Enemies

Notes:

  1. 1995 December 10, Speech at Banquet for the Nobel Prize Award by Robert E. Lucas, Jr., [Lucas won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel], From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1995, Editor Tore Frangsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm. (Accessed at nobelprize.org on August 13, 2013) link
  2. 1856 April 30, Springfield Republican, Political Miscellanies, Page 2, Column 1, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1856 August 06, The Nebraskian, (Freestanding short filler item), Quote Page 1, Column 6, Issue 28, Omaha, Nebraska. (19th Century Newspapers)
  4. 1856 August 27, Boston Investigator, Wit, Humor, and Sentiment, Page 1, Column 5, Issue 18, Boston, Massachusetts, (19th Century Newspapers)
  5. 1857 July 25, Chicago Daily Tribune, [Freestanding article], Page 0_3, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  6. 1860 March 10, Saturday Evening Post, [Freestanding article], Page 6, Column 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (ProQuest)

Quotation Is a Serviceable Substitute for Wit

Oscar Wilde? Somerset Maugham? George Bernard Shaw? Voltaire? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I thought you might enjoy the following remark attributed to Oscar Wilde:

Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.

I saw this on the goodreads website, but the source of the saying was not listed. Further searching led to the following similar comment attributed to Somerset Maugham:

The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.

This situation is confusing. Is either of these quotations genuine?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde said or wrote either of these statements.

A version of the expression was included in the story “The Creative Impulse” by W. Somerset Maugham. This popular tale was reprinted several times and was even made into a television episode. Interestingly, the quote was not included in the first publication of the short story in Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 1926. 1

The story was revised, expanded, and published again in a 1931 collection called “Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular”. The expression was used when a character named Mrs. Albert Forrester was described. Boldface has been added: 2

She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit, and having for thirty years known more or less intimately a great many distinguished people, she had a great many interesting anecdotes to tell, which she placed with tact and which she did not repeat more than was pardonable.

Note that the phrasing of the sentence above was awkward if one desired a concise and witty stand-alone quotation. Over time multiple versions of the saying were advanced.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Quotation Is a Serviceable Substitute for Wit

Notes:

  1. 1926 August, Harper’s Bazar (Harper’s Bazaar), The Creative Impulse by W. Somerset Maugham, Start Page 41, Hearst Corp., New York. (In 1926 the magazine used the name “Harper’s Bazar”. Later it switched to the name “Harper’s Bazaar”) (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1977 (Reprint of 1931 Doubleday, Doran & Company, Garden City, New York edition), Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular by W. Somerset Maugham, (This volume is part of a series: The Works of W. Somerset Maugham), Short story: The Creative Impulse, Start Page 249, Quote Page 255, Arno Press: A New York Times Company, New York. (Quote verified in 1977 reprint)