Monday, 3 December 2007


"Une oeuvre où il y a des théories est comme un objet sur lequel on laisse la marque du prix."

Which, roughly translated, means:

“A work of art that contains theories is like an object on which the price tag has been left.”

Regular readers may remember this quote appearing in my 'Art Quote of the Day' widget, and I remarked upon in a post later that week . It sounded so modern, I squeaked, delightedly. Yet, look! - it was written by Alexander Pope (1688-1744). Wow!

Now along comes someone with a little more substance in the brain department - Rob Spence of Topsyturvydom (who seems to be some sort of Mancunian Selkie - but possibly the photo was taken when he wasn't looking quite his best). Anyway, for an aquatic mammal, Rob is very well read - which is probably just as well, given that he lectures in Eng Lit - and he's very kindly pointed out that I, the good people at Brainy Quotes who supply Art Quote of the Day, and several zillion other internet users have been Most Scandalously Misled.

It wasn't Alexander Pope who said this. It was Marcel Proust!

Mon Dieu! Quelle Horreur!

Goodness knows how this misattribution originated, but it must be pretty well established. Not only does it pop up comprehensively on Google, but it features in the WikiQuote page on Pope amongst a list of other quotes wrongly attributed to the great man. It has become a kind of literary urban myth. Now it's on the internet, it will never go away!

In my reply to Rob's comment, I expressed embarrassment that I'd perpetuated this bit of misinformation. 'What's to be embarrassed about?' he asked.

Here's what: I wrote that little post because it had struck me as quite amazing that Pope had written such a thing. I even checked it out with a bit of Googling, and . . . yep, yep, yep, sure enough, everyone was saying it was by Pope, so onto the bandwaggon I hopped and off I went. I didn't stop to enquire which essay, precisely, the passage came from. I didn't think: 'hang on, did things in shops have "price tags" in the early eighteenth century?'. And I didn't even notice the entries on the next page of Google in which Proust's name appeared beside those words.

OK, it was 12 minutes past midnight and I had probably (alright, definitely) sunk the odd glass or two of wine, but it was still lazy of me and I apologise.

(And there was me saying that my Art Quote of the Day widget would prove less 'controversial' than the others . . . Ha!)


Unknown said...

I think you are being just a teeny bit hard on yourself. If you want a good Pope quotation, one of my favourites is the often misunderstood
"A little learning is a dang'rous thing."
Misunderstood, because it's often taken to mean that knowledge itself is dangerous. Not at all; the other half of the couplet reads "Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." Pope suggests that a small amount of learning is worse than none- what you have to do is go for a deep draught of knowledge.
Apart from the price-tag thing, it was the content that made me think it wasn't Pope. The quotation above comes from the "Essay on Criticism"- a 750 line poem (or work of art) entirely about theories...
As for the photo- well, it does bear a passing resemblance. If you are really curious, you can find me on the Edge Hill website.I can assure you that the blog picture is much to be preferred.

Juliet said...

Ha! Seen the pic - now who's being hard on themselves (a teeny bit!!)? And a George MacKay Brown chap, too - that explains a lot about the Selkie thing, then! Look forward to the AB book. Read the entire works years ago (before motherhood addled my brain) and was a huge fan - esp of Enderby and Earthly Powers. Really ought to sneak him back in to the 'to re-read' pile at some point . . .

Unknown said...

Great to hear you are an AB fan. I had sad news in that regard yesterday. His widow Liana died on Monday. I don't think the news is out yet. I met her a few times. Very feisty lady.