Alexander Fraser Tytler

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Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee, 10 May 1813

Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee (October 15, 1747January 5, 1813) was a Scottish-born British lawyer and writer.


  • It is not, perhaps, unreasonable to conclude, that a pure and perfect democracy is a thing not attainable by man, constituted as he is of contending elements of vice and virtue, and ever mainly influenced by the predominant principle of self-interest. It may, indeed, be confidently asserted, that there never was that government called a republic, which was not ultimately ruled by a single will, and, therefore, (however bold may seem the paradox,) virtually and substantially a monarchy.

Essay on the Principles of Translation (1791, 2nd edition 1797, 3rd edition 1813)[edit]

  • The utility of translations is universally felt, and therefore there is a continual demand for them. But this very circumstance has thrown the practice of translation into mean and mercenary hands.
  • I. ... the Translation should give a complete transcript of the ideas of the original work.
    II. ... the style and manner of writing should be of the same character with that of the original.
    III. ... the Translation should have all the ease of original composition.
  • An ordinary translator sinks under the energy of his original: the man of genius frequently rises above it.
  • Works which consist of fact and detail demand a more scrupulous fidelity than those of which the basis is sentiment.
  • It is always a fault when the translator adds to the sentiment of the original author, what does not strictly accord with his characteristic mode of thinking, or expressing himself.
  • But if authors, even of taste and genius, be found at times to have made an injudicious use of that liberty which is allowed in the translation of poetry, we must expect to see it miserably abused indeed, where those talents are evidently wanting.
  • Next in importance to a faithful transfusion of the sense and meaning of an author, is an assimilation of the style and manner of writing in the translation to that of the original.
  • In Latin two negatives make an affirmative; but it is otherwise in Greek, they only give force to the negation ...
  • ... a translator may discern the general character of his author's style, and yet fail remarkably in the imitation of it. Unless he is possessed of the most correct taste, he will be in continual danger of presenting an exaggerated picture or a caricatura of his orginal. The distinction between good and bad writing is often of so very slender a nature, and the shadowing of difference so extremely delicate, that a very nice perception alone can at all times define the limits.
  • The Greek language, from the frequency and familiarity of ellipsis, allows a conciseness of expression which is scarcely attainable in any other tongue, and perhaps least of all in the English. ...
    The Latin language, too, though in an inferior degree to the Greek, admits of a brevity, which cannot be successfully imitated in the English.
  • The English language is not incapable of an elliptical mode of expression; but it does not admit of it to the same degree as the Latin.
  • We may certainly, from the foregoing observations, conclude, that is impossible to do complete justice to any species of poetical compositin in a prose translation; in other words, that none but a poet can translate a poet.
  • The familiar style of epistolary correspondence is rarely attainable even in original composition. It consists in a delicate medium between the perfect freedom of ordinary conversation and the regularity of written dissertation or narrative. It is extremely difficult to attain this delicate medium in a translation: because the writer has neither a freedom of choice in the sentiments, nor in the mode of expressing them.
  • If the order in which I have classed the three general laws of translation be their just and natural arrangement, which I think will hardly be denied, it will follow, that in all cases where a sacrifice is necessary to be made of one of those laws to another, a due regard ought to be paid to their rank and comparative importance.


  • A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.
    • The earliest known attribution of this quote was published in 1948 under the byline Elmer T. Peterson in what appears to be an op-ed piece in The Daily Oklahoman entitled "This is the Hard Core of Freedom" (20 October 1948, p.19). The quote has not been found in Tytler's work. It has also been attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville.
    • There are many variants circulating with various permutations of majority, voters, citizens, or public. Ronald Reagan is known to have used this in speeches, as reported in Loren Collins, "The Truth About Tytler":
    • Other variants:
      The American Republic will endure until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.
      The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.
  • The historical cycle seems to be: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy, from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more.
A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.
The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
  • From bondage to spiritual faith;
  • From spiritual faith to great courage;
  • From courage to liberty;
  • From liberty to abundance;
  • From abundance to complacency;
  • From complacency to apathy;
  • From apathy to dependence;
  • From dependence back into bondage.

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