David Madore's WebLog: Desiderata — and Voltaire

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Entry #0435 [older|newer] / Entrée #0435 [précédente|suivante]:

(Sunday)

Desiderata — and Voltaire

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Probably the best-known “moralizing” poem in the world after Rudyard Kipling's If— which might have inspired it (and which I, personally, much prefer), Max Ehrmann's Desiderata is actually famous mostly because of a recurring story that has it found in Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore 1692, whereas it was actually written in the twenties. Regularly I come across people quoting Desiderata as this really old anonymous poem that was found in a church, so I'm spreading the meme: this is an urban legend, the author is actually named Max Ehrmann. I mention this poem now because I thought of the following pastiche of the last paragraph:

With all its hacks, incompatibilities, and broken links,
it is still a beautiful web.
Be accessible. Strive to be conformant.

Anyway, while I'm at it debunking urban legends, I should also state (as I frequently have to) that the following ultra-famous quote,

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

is not by Voltaire, to whom it is almost always, wrongly, attributed. So, to spread the correct meme: the above sentence is actually by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote it in chapter VII of The Friends of Voltaire (1906), published under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre. She used the phrase to describe the philosopher's attitude toward Helvétius; certainly it is in the spirit of Voltaire, but we must respect historical accuracy and note that he did not pen it. However, to quote Avram Grumer on rec.arts.sf.written, I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to mis-attribute this quote to Voltaire.

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