Saturday, December 18, 2010

Most Friday's I've been closing the Denver IDEA Cafe with this quote attributed to Goethe:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

We recently had a speaker with us at the Denver IDEA Cafe with a very strong background in the classics, and after I shared the above he laughed (In what to me seemed a bit of a Faustian way) and said "That's from Goethe's Faust, that's the advice of the devil."

So I woke with this on my mind and just Googled "Begin it now." German Language has this to say:

The Goethe Society of North America investigated this very subject over a two-year period ending in March 1998. The Society got help from various sources to solve the mystery of the Goethe quotation. Here's what they and others have discovered:

The “Until one is committed...” quotation often attributed to Goethe is in fact by William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. The actual final lines from W.H. Murray's book end this way (emphasis added): “...which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

So now we know that it was the Scottish mountaineer W.H. Murray, not J.W. von Goethe, who wrote most of the quotation, but what about the “Goethe couplet” at the end? Well, it's not really by Goethe either. It's not clear precisely where the two lines come from, but they are only a very loose paraphrase of some words that Goethe did write in his Faust drama. In the Vorspiel auf dem Theater part of Faust you'll find these words, “Now at last let me see some deeds!”—which we quoted at the top of this page. You can read that full passage and other works by Goethe on our Goethe-Gedichte page.

It seems that Murray may have borrowed the supposed Goethe lines from a source that had similar words labeled as a “very free translation” from Faust by a John Anster. In fact, the lines quoted by Murray are just too far from anything Goethe wrote to be called a translation, although they do express a similar idea. Even if some online quotation references correctly cite W.H. Murray as the author of the full quotation, they usually fail to call into question the two verses at the end. But they are not by Goethe.
Bottom line? Can any of the “commitment” quote be attributed to Goethe? No.

I still like the quote, it sums up very well the "just do it" attitude that at some point is necessary to get something new started, I'll just change the attribution to the mountain climber William Hutchinson Murray. It not the advice of the devil, quite the opposite.

Fear is the tool of the devil, whispering in our ear "who do you think you are, you can't do that now, you'd better wait." Yes, be cautious, not fool hearted. Don't skip the Evaluate step in the idEa creative thinking model. But don't get stuck. Many good ideas die on the shore of endless analysis. If you are selling Christmas trees, it's much better to be a week to early than a week too late.

As my childhood hero Davy Crocket said, "Be sure you are right, and then go ahead."

Typing the above I wonder, is my memory foggy, or did these words really come from Crocket? Using Google again I find that answer on  Yes they did. :)