April 23, as chosen by the UN, celebrates the book and all it has wrought. It’s the anniversary of the deaths of Cervantes, Shakespeare and Garcilaso de la Vega and the birthdays of Vladimir Nabokov, Maurice Druon and Josep Pla. It’s World Book Day. And I missed it by 11 days.
I’d have missed it by a mile more, if not the reminder in Tomgram: Eduardo Galeano, Not So Elementary, My Dear Watson, complete with a few passages excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books).
Galeano talks about World Book Day in the chapter Fame Is Baloney (April 23). I couldn’t resist checking his statements, exclaiming Aha! Oy! I knew it! No way! where appropriate and where not.
Here is the Oy! No way! category:
1. Plato never wrote his most famous line: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
Galeano is right (not that I doubted him). The author of this famous saying is Spanish philosopher George Santayana. In his Soliloquies in
England (Scribners, 1924, p. 102), Soliloquy #25, Tipperary, he writes without attribution to Plato, or anybody else:
Yet the poor fellows think they are safe! They think that the war is over! Only the dead have seen the end of war.
2. Voltaire’s best-known line was not said or written by him: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Evelyn Beatrice Hall, (1868 – after 1939), who wrote under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre, was an English writer, the author of the biography of Voltaire, titled The Friends of Voltaire, published in1906.
The exact phrase, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it, is an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs. Hall’s quote is often cited as the sharpest defense of freedom of speech.
3. Sherlock Holmes never said: “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
That’s a bummer. Every single Russian joke about Holmes has Elementary, Watson as a punch line (See my post Holmes. Sherlock Holmes? Da! for translations of some of them).
The most likely origin of this signature phrase was the movie Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929, screenplay by Basil Dean and Garrett Fort). “Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary,” says Clive Brook in the role of Holmes.
The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes utters his elementary only once, in The Crooked Man, when he counters Dr. Watson’s excited cry, “Excellent!” with his cool “Elementary.” No exclamation point.
4. Bertolt Brecht was not the author of his most oft-cited poem: “First they came for the Communists / and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Communist…”
Galeano is right again. The poem is attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). According to the Martin-Niemöller-Foundation the exact text is as follows:
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Niemöller first supported Nazism, but soon became bitterly disillusioned and headed the group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. In 1937 he was arrested and spent years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau as a German “not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement”.
The I knew it! category:
Indeed, The Book never references the exact name of the forbidden fruit. It’s just FRUIT. Very clever, to think of it. Christianity traipsed to places where people had never even seen apples, much less bit into them. Besides, of all the fruits of the Holy Land, apple trees aren’t the ones lining boulevards or harvested in the fall.
2. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel never wrote: “All theory is gray, my friend, but green is the tree of life.”
He didn’t. “All theory is gray, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life,” came from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Those who, like me, read Faust in translation from German to Russian by N.А. Cholodkovski, would never mix their Goethe with their Hegel. Суха теория, мой друг, а древо жизни вечно зеленеет… Sorry, couldn’t resist. In my opinion, it sounds even better in Russian translation than in English: the theory isn’t GRAY, but, more appropriately, DRY… Cannot compare it to the Goethe’s original, unfortunately.
3. In none of his books or pamphlets did Lenin write: “The ends justify the means.”
Obviously, Galeano knows his Lenin. Google Vladimir Lenin if you don’t, but curious to know.
All things that I know about him considered, Lenin might’ve agreed with the general gist of the phrase that was mistakenly attributed to him.
Here is a scenario: The first years after the 1917th October Revolution. The economy and the country are ruined. Wheat is in short supply. Wheat is both bread AND vodka. When potatoes, too, became scarce (a low grade alcohol could be distilled from potatoes) the situation become worrisome. Lenin, then the leader of the huge country with dismal economy, realized the need for a surrogate alcohol. In one of his very infrequently quoted uttering (the letter dated 1921 to the Council of People’s Commissars) he wrote, “I am strongly against wasting potatoes to distill alcohol. Alcohol can and should be produced from peat moss.”
Go ahead; turn on your sarcasm…
And Happy very belated World Book and Copyright Day!