Sunday, September 02, 2007

"I quote others only in order the better to express myself"

So my recent mucking about with quotes got me to thinking about a Montaigne quote that I've long loved and frequently quoted: "I quote others only in order the better to express myself." A great sentiment; hits the nail on the head.

But did he say it?

A google search turned up... that quote on a lot of quotation sites, such as brainyquote. (I hate those sites: they never give the source for anything, but just clog up google results with useless repetitions.) Which led me to believe that perhaps the quote was apocryphal.

But it's not, quite. Wikiquote had an alternative version of it, and that led me to the source.

The quote is from Book One, Chapter 26 of Montaigne's Essays. (According to that site, it was added in a later version of the text.) The original French context is this:
De ma part il n'est rien que je veuille moins faire. Je ne dis les autres, sinon pour d'autant plus me dire. Cecy ne touche pas des centons qui se publient pour centons: et j'en ay veu de tres-ingenieux en mon temps, entre autres un, sous le nom de Capilupus, outre les anciens.
I have put the words that became the quote under discussion in bold.

The only widely available online translation of Montaigne (at least of the complete text) is the Charles Cotton version. Now Cotton lived in the 17th century, so he hardly translated Montaigne into contemporary English. (He may have translated Montaigne into something closer to the English of Montaigne's own day, which has another sort of advantage.*) In any event, here's how he translates that passage:
For my own part, there is nothing I would not sooner do than that, neither have I said so much of others, but to get a better opportunity to explain myself. Nor in this do I glance at the composers of centos, who declare themselves for such; of which sort of writers I have in my time known many very ingenious, and particularly one under the name of Capilupus, besides the ancients.
(Again, the passage under discussion is in bold.) Not precisely clear; and the bolded part, you may notice, isn't even given its own sentence... as Montaigne does in French (at least if the on-line text is accurate.)

Most of the other versions of Montaigne I could find online didn't seem to have this passage. (I searched for "Capilupus", a word I thought unlikely to be altered in translation and which was right by the passage. No luck.)

I happened to have a copy of the Donald Frame translation on dead trees handy -- a far more modern version, first published in 1943. Here's how Frame translates the passage:
For my part, there is nothing I want less to do. I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better. This does not apply to the compilations that are published as compilations; and I have seen some very ingenious ones in my time; among others, one under the name of Capilupus, besides the ancients.
This seems to be where Wikiquote's alternate version comes from.

Thanks to the miracle of GoogleBooks, however, William Hazlitt's 1850 translation is online (courtesy of Harvard's library). And here's how the passage runs there:
For my own part there is nothing I would not sooner do than that; I quote others only in order the better to express myself. In this I do not, in the least, glance at the composers of centos, who declare themselves for such ; of which sort of writers I have, in my time, seen many very ingenious, particularly one, under the name of Capilupus, besides the ancients.
So there you have it: the quote itself, in the form I knew it.

So it's not a misquotation; it's just a particular translation of a quote. But I have to admit I think the Frame version is better. The Frame version gets across the emphasis -- that the only valid purpose of quoting is to "speak my own mind better" (as opposed to flashily (and poorly) display erudition, which is what Montaigne is actually speaking against here); the Hazlitt version, particularly as excerpted in "compilations" (which, I admit, is where I first saw it -- quite an irony, had I but known), makes it sound like that is the only purpose of quotation, full stop. Though perhaps this is because Hazlitt's English is a century and a half (give or take) older than mine, and I just hear it differently.

But that's where the quote is from.

Post-Script: If you're curious, as I was, about who Capilupus is, you'll find that Google knows him almost entirely in reference to this single passage of Montaigne. The most I could find out about him was a footnote in the Hazlitt translation I linked to above. Here's what Hazlitt says (I reproduce his footnote in full):
Lelius Capilupus, a native of Mantua, who flourished in the sixteenth century, was famous for compositions of this kind, as may be seen under his name in Bayle's Dictionary, who says that the Cento, which he wrote against the monks, is inimitable; it is to be found at the end of the Regnum Papistieum of Neogorgas. He wrote one also against the women, which Mr. Bayle also mentions as a very ingenious piece, but too satirical. It was inserted in a collection, entitled Baudii Amores, printed at Leyden, in 1638. This Lelius had a nephew, named Julius Capilupus, who signalized [sic] himself by Centos, and even had a talent for it superior to his uncle, if we may believe Possevin. Poet. Select. Lib. xvii. 24.
They don't make footnotes quite like that any more.

Hazlitt also lists one of Capilupus' works in one of his other books, saying of it that "The whole poem is made up, Mr Aldis Wright informs me, of bits of Virgil pieced together, with marginal references. Not in Herbert." -- And that's about it, as far as Capilupus and Google go. (Actually, if you read French, you can read the entry from Bayle's Dictionary (pp. 402-3) at Google Books. Doesn't seem to have made it into any of the available bits of available English translations, though.)

Talented as a Cento-writer or not, neither Capilupus seems to have made it very far on the electronic frontier as yet.

Ah, the vagaries of fame!

* Actually, there is an even older translation online -- I think in full -- that of John Florio from
. Here's how Florio translates this passage:
As for me, there is nothing I will doe lesse. I never speake of others, but that I may the more speake of my selfe. This concerneth not those mingle-mangles of many kinds of stuffe, or as the Grecians call them Rapsodies, that for such are published, of which kind I have (since I came to yeares of discretion seen divers most ingenious and wittie; amongst others, one under the name of Capilupus; besides many of the ancient stampe.
"I never speake of others, but that I may the more speake of my selfe" -- maybe that's how I should quote it from now on!

1 comment:

william max said...

In Tilsit, Russia swore eternal alliance in France and war in England. It violates its oaths today. Russia is pulled by its fate; its destinies must be achieved! Does it thus believe us degenerated? Thus let us go ahead; let us pass Neman River, carry the war on its territory see more. The second war of Poland will be glorious with the French Armies like the first one.