[Ads-l] Request help verifying quotation of polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 12 14:42:39 UTC 2015

The Quote Investigator website now has an entry that explores a family
of sayings that Nigel Rees, Fred Shapiro, Barry Popik and other
researchers have previously examined. Here are five instances in the

1) If the thing be possible, it is already done; if impossible, it
shall be done.

2) If it is simply difficult, it is done. If it is impossible, it shall be done.

3) The difference between the difficult and the impossible is that the
impossible takes a little longer time.

4) The difficult is that which can be done immediately, the impossible
that which takes a little longer.

5) The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.

The entry begins with a citation dated 1794 in which a French
statesman named Charles Alexandre de Calonne employed the saying while
speaking to Queen Marie Antionette. This antedates a citation in 1847.


Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen used a version of the saying,
and "The Yale Book of Quotations" has a 1939 attribution to him.  This
message is a request for help in verifying the precise details and
metadata for a remark made by Nansen circa 1925 to fellow delegates
during an assembly of the League of Nations.

The quotation apparently was printed in three different documents. The
partial information below is based on matches in Google Books and

Year: 1925 (Conjectural)
Title: Verbatim Record
Author: League of Nations. Assembly
Volumes 4-6, Page 10
Published in Geneva, Switzerland
(Google Books Snippet View; data not yet verified)

Short link: http://bit.ly/1GyHgxQ
Full link: https://books.google.com/books?id=m8_mAAAAMAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=%22difficult+is%22

[Begin extracted text]
The President. -- Dr. Nansen, delegate for Norway, will address the Assembly.

Dr. Nansen (Norway): Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen -- The
wonderfully eloquent speech which we have just heard reminds me of the
definition of the difference between the difficult and the impossible.
The difficult is that which can be done at once: the impossible is
that which takes a little longer.
[End extracted text]

Year: 1925 (Conjectural)
Title: Official journal. Special supplement
Issues 33-40
Author: League of Nations.
Publisher: [London, England: Harrison & Sons,
Quote Page 151

Short Link: http://bit.ly/1KDmSNK
Full Link: https://books.google.com/books?id=M_gfAQAAMAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=%22difficult+is%22

Year: 1927
Title: Scheme for the settlement of Armenian refugees; general survey
and principal documents.
Corporate Author: League of Nations.
Other Authors: Fridtjof Nansen and Jules Pam
Publisher: Geneva, League of Nations
Page 189 match: "difference between the difficult and the impossible"


The goal is to obtain a precise date and a complete verified citation.
If you can gain access to one of the documents above and you wish to
help then please contact me off list.

Garson O'Toole

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

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