[Ads-l] Antedating of An Elephant Never Forgets

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Tue Apr 13 05:19:52 UTC 2021

Garson has done the heavy lifting here. Translations of the *Histoire
Naturelle* (written 1749-1789) of Comte de Buffon (Georges-Louis
Leclerc) by W. Kenrick and John Murdock (1775-6), as well as William
Smellie (1785; mentioned by Garson), phrase Buffon's observations on
elephants in the familiar terms of the proverb:

Kenrick and Murdock, 1775-6:

"It is ſaid, that when they have been once attacked by men, or have
fallen into ſome ambuſhes, they never forget it, and ſeek for revenge on
all occaſions." (p 75, #91)


"...in anger he does not forget his friends...he remembers favors as
long as injuries" (p 72, #88)


Smellie, 1785:

"When they have been once attacked by men, or have fallen into a ſnare,
they are ſaid never to forget it, but take every opportunity of
revenge." (p 12, #24)


Smellie's footnote, p 11-12, #23-24, is of interest and, if pursued, may
reveal the earlier sources of the proverb in native lore.

On 4/12/21 9:41 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
> French naturalist Comte de Buffon published a multi-volume work about
> natural history. It was translated into English and the third edition
> appeared in 1791.
> The article about the elephant asserted that "The memory of the
> elephant should be more perfect than that of any other animal". This
> statement is not as compact as the saying "Elephants never forget",
> but the idea is similar.
> The reasoning presented by the book is odd. The Elephant memory is
> superior because the animal experiences many sensations which results
> in deep impressions.
> Year: 1791
> Title: Natural History, General and Particular
> Author: Count De Buffon
> Translator: William Smellie
> Third Edition
> Volume 6 of 9
> Article: The Elephant
> Start Page 1, Quote Page 52
> Printed for A. Strahan and T. Cadell, London
> Database: Google Books
> https://books.google.com/books?id=zE3MEQnmPGkC&q=%22memory+of%22#v=snippet&
> [Begin excerpt]
> The memory of the elephant should be more perfect than that of any
> other animal; for memory depends greatly on the circumstances of
> actions. No solitary sensation, however lively, can leave any distinct
> or durable impression; but several combined and contemporary
> sensations make deep and lasting impressions; so that, if the elephant
> cannot recollect an idea by touch alone, the adjacent and accessory
> sensations of smelling, and the power of suction, which have acted at
> the same time, aid him in recalling the remembrance of it.
> [End excerpt]
> Here is another thematically similar assertion about the memory of the
> elephant. The words are attributed to John Corse who was also
> mentioned in Pete Morris's post.
> Year: 1799
> Journal: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
> Article: Observations on the Manners, Habits, and Natural History, of
> the Elephant
> Author: John Corse
> Note: Communicated by the Right Hon Sir Joseph Banks Bart KBPRS
> Date of Reading: January 24, 1799
> Start Page 31, Quote Page 37
> Database: Google Books
> https://books.google.com/books?id=n8JeAAAAcAAJ&q=%22so+retentive%22#v=snippet&
> [Begin excerpt]
> It has been stated, that the sagacity of the elephant is so great, and
> his memory so retentive, that when once he has received an injury, or
> been in bondage, and afterwards escapes, it is not possible, by any
> art, again to entrap him.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
> On Mon, Apr 12, 2021 at 11:20 AM Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:
>> The Yale Book of Quotations traces this proverb, in the form "Elephants never forget," to the short story "Reginald," by Saki (1904).  Here is an example from James S. Olcott, Animal Electricity 78 (1844) (Google Books):  "The elephant never forgets nor forgives an insulting injury."
>> Although that is the earliest I saw, there are a number of additional examples from the 19th century.  From the Auburn (N.Y.) Weekly American (May 12, 1856) (NewspaperArchive):  "The elephant never forgets an enemy or a friend."
>> The statement clearly had come to be seen as proverbial no later than this example from a children's story in 1884.  From Harper's Young People (Feb. 26, 1884) (Google Books):  ""Elephants never forget," said Alice, more loudly than she intended, so that the Elephant heard, and turned and made a bow to her."
>> John Baker
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

James Eric Lawson

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

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