[Ads-l] Voltaire and a famous misquotation (French version)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 10 19:21:23 UTC 2015

In 1906 Evelyn Beatrice Hall published a phrase that became one of the
most popular misquotations in modern history. Hall wished to depict
the attitude of Voltaire during a controversy over a book written by
Helvétius. Hall's formulation was so well-wrought and compelling that
her words were reassigned directly to Voltaire.

Year: 1906
Title: The Friends of Voltaire
Author: S. G. Tallentyre (actual author: Evelyn Beatrice Hall)
Quote Page 198 and 199
Publisher: John Murray, Albemarle Street, London


[Begin excerpt]
'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your
right to say it,' was his attitude now.
[End excerpt]

Hall's statement is not the only expression of this sentiment that has
caused confusion. There is another version rendered in French that has
appeared in some of the most important reference works about
quotations, e.g., Famous Lines: A Columbia Dictionary of Familiar
Quotations (1997) and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations Fourteenth
Edition (1968).

[Begin excerpt]
Monsieur l'Abbé, je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerais ma
vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire.
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt]
Monsieur I'Abbe, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to
make it possible for you to continue to write.
[End excerpt]

Some assert that the line above appeared in a letter to M. le Riche
dated February 6, 1770. But Fred stated in The Yale Book of Quotations
that the line was absent.

I have been asked to trace the famous Voltaire misquotation, and as
part of that task I am attempting to learn more about the French
statement above.

The earliest match for the statement I've found is in a volume in
Google Books that has a GB date of 1950. I will ask a person off list
to access this volume. If you wish to help please contact me off list.

Year: 1950
Title: Chasing an Ancient Greek, Discursive Reminiscences of an European Journey
Author: Douglas Young
Published: London, Hollis & Carter
Quote Page 117 (according to GB; snippet blocked; text is largely not
visible in snippet)

[Begin extracted text]
People in P.E.N, are fond of quoting Voltaire's remark: "Monsieur
l'Abbé, je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerais ma vie pour
que vous puissiez continuer à écrire", and Silone duly quoted it,
going on, however, to develop a criticism of the social, political and
economic factors on which the freedom of expression is dependent.
[End extracted text]


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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