Victor Hugo

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One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.

Victor Marie Hugo (26 February 180222 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement, widely esteemed as one of the greatest of French writers and poets.

See also:
Les Misérables
The Hunchback of Notre Dame‎

Quotes[edit]

I will be Chateaubriand or nothing.
You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea.
A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas.
I am willing to die, I am not willing to kill.
To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better.
There shall be no slavery of the mind.
The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.
I represent a party which does not yet exist: the party of revolution, civilization. This party will make the twentieth century. There will issue from it first the United States of Europe, then the United States of the World.
Social problems overstep frontiers. The sores of the human race, those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map.
  • I will be Chateaubriand or nothing.
    • Written at the age of 15 in one of his notebooks (c. 1817), as quoted in The Literary Movement in France During the Nineteenth Century (1897) by Georges Pellissier
  • Behold, then, a new religion, a new society; upon this twofold foundation there must inevitably spring up a new poetry. Previously following therein the course pursued by the ancient polytheism and philosophy, the purely epic muse of the ancients had studied nature in only a single aspect, casting aside without pity almost everything in art which, in the world subjected to its imitation, had not relation to a certain type of beauty. A type which was magnificent at first, but, as always happens with everything systematic, became in later times false, trivial and conventional. Christianity leads poetry to the truth. Like it, the modern muse will see things in a higher and broader light. It will realize that everything in creation is not humanly beautiful, that the ugly exists beside the beautiful, the unshapely beside the graceful, the grotesque on the reverse of the sublime, evil with good, darkness with light. It will ask itself if the narrow and relative sense of the artist should prevail over the infinite, absolute sense of the Creator; if it is for man to correct God; if a mutilated nature will be the more beautiful for the mutilation; if art has the right to duplicate, so to speak, man, life, creation; if things will progress better when their muscles and their vigour have been taken from them; if, in short, to be incomplete is the best way to be harmonious. Then it is that, with its eyes fixed upon events that are both laughable and redoubtable, and under the influence of that spirit of Christian melancholy and philosophical criticism which we described a moment ago, poetry will take a great step, a decisive step, a step which, like the upheaval of an earthquake, will change the whole face of the intellectual world. It will set about doing as nature does, mingling in its creations — but without confounding them — darkness and light, the grotesque and the sublime; in other words, the body and the soul, the beast and the intellect; for the starting-point of religion is always the starting-point of poetry. All things are connected.
    Thus, then, we see a principle unknown to the ancients, a new type, introduced in poetry; and as an additional element in anything modifies the whole of the thing, a new form of the art is developed. This type is the grotesque; its new form is comedy.
  • Ces deux moitiés de Dieu, le pape et l'empereur!
  • Dieu s'est fait homme; soit. Le diable s'est fait femme!
  • À qeulle heure, s'il vous plaît?
    • At what hour, please? retort to Victor Cousin, after he claimed he could pinpoint the start of the (perceived) decay of the French language: 1978.
      • Choses vues 1830-1846, Séance du 23 Novembre 1843
  • Vous avez des ennemis? Mais c'est l'histoire de tout homme qui a fait une action grande ou crée une idée neuve. C'est la nuée qui bruit autour de tout ce qui brille. Il faut que la renommé ait des ennemis comme il faut que la lumière ait des moucherons. Ne vous en inquiétez pas, dédaignez! Ayez la sérénité dans votre esprit comme vous avez la limpidité dans votre vie.
    • You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.
      • Villemain (1845)
  • Vous tenez à l’exemple [de la peine de mort]. Pourquoi? Pour ce qu’il enseigne. Que voulez-vous enseigner avec votre exemple? Qu’il ne faut pas tuer. Et comment enseignez-vous qu’il ne faut pas tuer? En tuant.
    • You insist on the example [of the death penalty]. Why? For what it teaches. What do you want to teach with your example? That thou shalt not kill. And how do you teach thou shalt not kill? By killing.
  • Un jour viendra où il n'y aura plus d'autres champs de bataille que les marchés s'ouvrant au commerce et les esprits s'ouvrant aux idées. Un jour viendra où les boulets et les bombes seront remplacés par les votes, par le suffrage universel des peuples, par le vénérable arbitrage d'un grand sénat souverain qui sera à l'Europe ce que le parlement est à l'Angleterre, ce que la diète est à l'Allemagne, ce que l'assemblée législative est à la France! Un jour viendra où l'on montrera un canon dans les musées comme on y montre aujourd'hui un instrument de torture, en s'étonnant que cela ait pu être! Un jour viendra où l'on verra ces deux groupes immenses, les États-Unis d'Amérique, les États-Unis d'Europe, placés en face l'un de l'autre, se tendant la main par-dessus les mers, échangeant leurs produits, leur commerce, leur industrie, leurs arts, leurs génies, défrichant le globe, colonisant les déserts, améliorant la création sous le regard du créateur, et combinant ensemble, pour en tirer le bien-être de tous, ces deux forces infinies, la fraternité des hommes et la puissance de Dieu!
    • A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France.
      A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today. And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!
      A day will come when we shall see those two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe, facing one another, stretching out their hands across the sea, exchanging their products, their arts, their works of genius, clearing up the globe, making deserts fruitful, ameliorating creation under the eyes of the Creator, and joining together, to reap the well-being of all, these two infinite forces, the fraternity of men and the power of God.
  • Il y a maintenant en France dans chaque village un flambeau allumé, le maître d'école, et une bouche qui souffle dessus, le curé.
    • Histoire d'un crime. Déposition d'un témoin (1877), Deuxième Journée. La lutte, ch. III: La barricade Saint-Antoine
    • Translation: There is now, in France, in each village, a lighted torch—the schoolmaster—and a mouth which blows upon it—the curé.
      • T. H. Joyce and Arthur Locker (tr.), The History of a Crime: The Testimony of an Eye-Witness (1877), The Second Day, Chapter III, p. 120
    • Translation: In every French village there is now a lighted torch, the schoolmaster; and a mouth trying to blow it out, the priest.
      • Huntington Smith (tr.), History of a Crime (1888), The Second Day, Chapter III, p. 187
    • Variants: There is in every village a torch: The schoolteacher/teacher. And an extinguisher: The priest/clergyman.
  • Je n'entre qu'à moitié dans la guerre civile. Je veux bien y mourir, je ne veux pas y tuer.
    • I only take a half share in the civil war; I am willing to die, I am not willing to kill.
      • Histoire d'un crime (The History of a Crime) [written 1852, published 1877], Quatrième journée. La victoire, ch. II: Les Faits de la nuit. Quartier des Halles. Trans. T.H. Joyce and Arthur Locker
  • On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées.
    • Literal translations:
    • One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.
    • One withstands the invasion of armies; one does not withstand the invasion of ideas.
      • Histoire d'un Crime (The History of a Crime) [written 1852, published 1877], Conclusion, ch. X. Trans. T.H. Joyce and Arthur Locker [1]
    • Alternative translations and paraphrased variants:
      • One cannot resist an idea whose time has come.
      • No one can resist an idea whose time has come.
      • Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
      • Armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come.
      • No army can stop an idea whose time has come.
      • Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
      • There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.
  • Waterloo! Waterloo! Waterloo! Morne plaine!
  • L'œil était dans la tombe et regardait Caïn.
    • The eye was in the tomb and stared at Cain.
      • La Conscience, from La Légende des siècles (1859), First Series, Part I
  • Vous créez un frisson nouveau.
  • Mettre tout en équilibre, c'est bien; mettre tout en harmonie, c'est mieux.
  • Jésus a pleuré, Voltaire a souri; c’est de cette larme divine et de ce sourire humain qu’est faite la douceur de la civilisation actuelle.
    • Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. Of that divine tear and that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilization.
      • Speech, "Le centenaire de Voltaire", on the 100th anniversary of the death of Voltaire, Théâtre de la Gaîté, Paris (30 May 1878); published in Actes et paroles - Depuis l'exil (1878)
  • For four hundred years the human race has not made a step but what has left its plain vestige behind. We enter now upon great centuries. The sixteenth century will be known as the age of painters, the seventeenth will be termed the age of writers, the eighteenth the age of philosophers, the nineteenth the age of apostles and prophets. To satisfy the nineteenth century, it is necessary to be the painter of the sixteenth, the writer of the seventeenth, the philosopher of the eighteenth; and it is also necessary, like Louis Blane, to have the innate and holy love of humanity which constitutes an apostolate, and opens up a prophetic vista into the future. In the twentieth century war will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, animosity will be dead, royalty will be dead, and dogmas will be dead; but Man will live. For all there will be but one country—that country the whole earth; for all there will be but one hope—that hope the whole heaven.
  • Was it possible that Napoleon should win the battle of Waterloo? We answer, No! Why? Because of Wellington? Because of Blücher? No! Because of God! For Bonaparte to conquer at Waterloo was not the law of the nineteenth century. It was time that this vast man should fall. He had been impeached before the Infinite! He had vexed God! Waterloo was not a battle. It was the change of front of the Universe!
    • "The Battle of Waterloo", reported in Oliver Ernesto Branch, ed., The Hamilton Speaker (1878), p. 53
  • Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.
    • "Thoughts," Postscriptum de ma vie, in Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography, Funk and Wagnalls (1907) as translated by Lorenzo O'Rourke
  • C'est ici le combat du jour et de la nuit... Je vois de la lumière noire.
    • This is the battle between day and night... I see black light.
      • Last words (1885-05-22); quoted in Olympio, ou la vie de Victor Hugo by André Maurois (1954)
  • There shall be no slavery of the mind.
    • Quoted by Courtlandt Palmer, president of the Nineteenth Century Club of New York, while introducing Robert G. Ingersoll as a speaker in a debate, "The Limitations of Toleration," at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City (1888-05-08); from The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (Dresden Publishing Company, 1902), vol. VII, p. 217
  • Lever à six, coucher à dix,
    Dîner à dix, souper à six,
    Font vivre l'homme dix fois dix.
    • To rise at six, to sleep at ten,
      To sup at ten, to dine at six,
      Make a man live for ten times ten.
      • Inscription in Hugo's dining room, quoted in Gustave Larroumet, La maison de Victor Hugo: Impressions de Guernesey (1895), Chapter III
  • Ce besoin de l’immatériel est le plus vivace de tous. Il faut du pain; mais avant le pain, il faut l’idéal.
    • The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.
      • "Les fleurs," (ca. 1860 - 1865), from Oeuvres complètes (1909); published in English as The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, trans. John W. Harding (1899), Chapter VI: Love in Prison, part II
  • Je représente un parti qui n'existe pas encore, le parti Révolution-Civilisation. Ce parti fera le vingtième siècle. Il en sortira d'abord les États-Unis d'Europe, puis les États-Unis du Monde.
    • I represent a party which does not yet exist: the party Revolution-Civilization. This party will make the twentieth century. There will issue from it first the United States of Europe, then the United States of the World.
      • Océan - Tas de pierres (1942)
  • To divinise is human, to humanise is divine.
    • Les feuilles d'automne (1831)
  • Philosophy is the microscope of thought. Everything desires to flee from it, but nothing escapes it.
  • Les Misérables
  • Aimer, c'est agir
    • To love is to act
      • Last words of his diary, written two weeks before his death, published in Victor Hugo : Complete Writings (1970), edited by Jean-Jacques Pauvert

Letter To M. Daelli on Les Misérables (1862)[edit]

Publisher of the Italian translation of Les Misérables (18 October 1862)
The miserable's name is Man; he is agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.
In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.
God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man.
  • Vous avez raison, monsieur, quand vous me dites que le livre les Misérables est écrit pour tous les peuples. Je ne sais s'il sera lu par tous, mais je l'ai écrit pour tous. Il s'adresse à l'Angleterre autant qu'à l'Espagne, à l'Italie autant qu'à la France, à l'Allemagne autant qu'à l'Irlande, aux républiques qui ont des esclaves aussi bien qu'aux empires qui ont des serfs. Les problèmes sociaux dépassent les frontières. Les plaies du genre humain, ces larges plaies qui couvrent le globe, ne s'arrêtent point aux lignes bleues ou rouges tracées sur la mappemonde. Partout où l'homme ignore et désespère, partout où la femme se vend pour du pain, partout où l'enfant souffre faute d'un livre qui l'enseigne et d'un foyer qui le réchauffe, le livre les Misérables frappe à la porte et dit: Ouvrez-moi, je viens pour vous.
    • You are right, sir, when you tell me that Les Misérables is written for all nations. I do not know whether it will be read by all, but I wrote it for all. It is addressed to England as well as to Spain, to Italy as well as to France, to Germany as well as to Ireland, to Republics which have slaves as well as to Empires which have serfs. Social problems overstep frontiers. The sores of the human race, those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map. In every place where man is ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book of Les Misérables knocks at the door and says: "Open to me, I come for you."
  • À l'heure, si sombre encore, de la civilisation où nous sommes, le misérable s'appelle L'HOMME; il agonise sous tous les climats, et il gémit dans toutes les langues.
    • At the hour of civilization through which we are now passing, and which is still so sombre, the miserable's name is Man; he is agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.
  • Du fond de l'ombre où nous sommes et où vous êtes, vous ne voyez pas beaucoup plus distinctement que nous les radieuses et lointaines portes de l'éden. Seulement les prêtres se trompent. Ces portes saintes ne sont pas derrière nous, mais devant nous.
    • From the depths of the gloom wherein you dwell, you do not see much more distinctly than we the radiant and distant portals of Eden. Only, the priests are mistaken. These holy portals are before and not behind us.
  • Ce livre, les Misérables, n'est pas moins que votre miroir que le nôtre. Certains hommes, certaines castes, se révoltent contre ce livre, je le comprends. Les miroirs, ces diseurs de vérité, sont haïs; cela ne les empêche pas d'être utiles.
    Quant à moi, j'ai écrit pour tous, avec un profond amour pour mon pays, mais sans me préoccuper de la France plus que d'un autre peuple. A mesure que j'avance dans la vie je me simplifie, et je deviens de plus en plus patriote de l'humanité.
    • This book, Les Misérables, is no less your mirror than ours. Certain men, certain castes, rise in revolt against this book, — I understand that. Mirrors, those revealers of the truth, are hated; that does not prevent them from being of use. As for myself, I have written for all, with a profound love for my own country, but without being engrossed by France more than by any other nation. In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.
  • En somme, je fais ce que je peux, je souffre de la souffrance universelle, et je tâche de la soulager, je n'ai que les chétives forces d'un homme, et je crie à tous: aidez-moi.
    • In short, I am doing what I can, I suffer with the same universal suffering, and I try to assuage it, I possess only the puny forces of a man, and I cry to all: "Help me!"
  • Italiens ou français, la misère nous regarde tous. Depuis que l'histoire écrit et que la philosophie médite, la misère est le vêtement du genre humain; le moment serait enfin venu d'arracher cette guenille, et de remplacer, sur les membres nus de l'Homme-Peuple, la loque sinistre du passé par la grande robe pourpre de l'aurore.
    • Whether we be Italians or Frenchmen, misery concerns us all. Ever since history has been written, ever since philosophy has meditated, misery has been the garment of the human race; the moment has at length arrived for tearing off that rag, and for replacing, upon the naked limbs of the Man-People, the sinister fragment of the past with the grand purple robe of the dawn.

William Shakespeare (1864)[edit]

  • Dieu se manifeste à nous au premier degré à travers la vie de l’univers, et au deuxième degré à travers la pensée de l’homme. La deuxième manifestation n’est pas moins sacrée que la première. La première s’appelle la Nature, la deuxième s’appelle l’Art.
    • God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art.
      • Part I, Book II, Chapter I [2]
  • Homère est un des génies qui résolvent ce beau problème de l’art, le plus beau de tous peut-être, la peinture vraie de l’humanité obtenue par le grandissement de l’homme, c’est-à-dire la génération du réel dans l’idéal.
    • Homer is one of the men of genius who solve that fine problem of art — the finest of all, perhaps — truly to depict humanity by the enlargement of man: that is, to generate the real in the ideal.
      • Part I, Book II, Chapter II, Section I [3]
  • Que l'avenir soit un orient au lieu d'être un couchant, c'est la consolation de l'homme.
    • It is man's consolation that the future is to be a sunrise instead of a sunset.
      • Part I, Book II, Chapter II, Section V [4]
  • La musique...est la vapeur de l’art. Elle est à la poésie ce que la rêverie est à la pensée, ce que le fluide est au liquide, ce que l’océan des nuées est à l’océan des ondes.
    • Music...is the vapour of art. It is to poetry what revery is to thought, what the fluid is to the liquid, what the ocean of clouds is to the ocean of waves.
      • Part I, Book II, Chapter IV [5]
  • Ce qu’on ne peut dire et ce qu’on ne peut taire, la musique l’exprime.
    • Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
      • Part I, Book II, Chapter IV [6]

Ninety-Three (1874)[edit]

Cimourdain knew everything and nothing. He knew everything about science, and nothing at all about life. Hence his inflexibility.
Ninety-Three [Quatrevingt-treize] (1874) as translated by the A. L. Burt Company (1900)
  • Cimourdain was a pure-minded but gloomy man. He had "the absolute" within him. He had been a priest, which is a solemn thing. Man may have, like the sky, a dark and impenetrable serenity; that something should have caused night to fall in his soul is all that is required. Priesthood had been the cause of night within Cimourdain. Once a priest, always a priest.
    Whatever causes night in our souls may leave stars. Cimourdain was full of virtues and truth, but they shine out of a dark background.
  • Cimourdain was one of those men who have a voice within them, and who listen to it. Such men seem absent-minded; they are not; they are all attention.
    Cimourdain knew everything and nothing. He knew everything about science, and nothing at all about life. Hence his inflexibility. His eyes were bandaged like Homer's Themis. He had the blind certainty of the arrow, which sees only the mark and flies to it. In a revolution, nothing is more terrible than a straight line. Cimourdain went straight ahead, as sure as fate.
    Cimourdain believed that, in social geneses, the extreme point is the solid earth; an error peculiar to minds which replace reason with logic.
    • Part 2, Book 1, Ch. 2


Disputed[edit]

  • He who is a legend in his own time is ruled by that legend. It may begin in absolute innocence, but, to cover up flaws and maintain the myth of Divine Power, one must employ desperate measures.
    • Attributed to Hugo in Old Gods Almost Dead : The 40-year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones (2001), by Stephen Davis, p. 557; but sourced to Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud in Jaco : The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (2006) by Bill Milkowski, p. iii
  • I don't mind what Congress does, as long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses.
    • Though research done for Wikiquote indicates that the attribution of this remark to Hugo seems extensive on the internet, no source has been identified. It seems to be a statement a modern satirist might make, derived from one made circa 1910 by Mrs Patrick Campbell regarding homosexuals: "Does it really matter what these affectionate people do — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses?"
  • Et la marine va, papa, venir à Malte.
    • And the navy, Papa, will come to Malta.
      • Palindrome attributed to Hugo on the internet, but in no published sources yet found.

Quotes about Victor Hugo[edit]

  • Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo.
  • A glittering humbug.
    • Thomas Carlyle, in Henry Brewster Stanton, Random Recollections (1887)
  • ("Who is the greatest French poet?")
    Victor Hugo, alas!
    • André Gide, as quoted in Victor Hugo's Night-Fallen Line by Aleksis Rannit in New Directions, Issue 44 (1982)
  • Hugo, like a priest, always has his head bowed -- bowed so low that he can see nothing except his own navel.

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