Untraced Quotations


‘Nature is the place where the birds fly around uncooked’

‘the starry heavens which can scarce express the infinite and eternal of the Christian soul’
Quite possibly a garbled version of this from John Lancaster Spalding, Essays and Reviews (New York, 1877): ‘What depth and spiritual force has not the Christian religion given to poetry! Groves, flowers, and running waters satisfied the poets of paganism; but not the boundless ocean, nor the starry heavens, nor aught else can express the infinite thoughts and emotions which fill the soul of a Christian.’ Probably mis-cited by IB from a secondary source. Thanks to Aaron Taylor for tracking this down.

‘la raison a toujours raison’
Said by IB to be Plekhanov’s favourite quotation (SR 124–5). Neither Pascal’s ‘Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas’ nor La Fontaine’s ‘La raison du plus fort est toujours la plus forte raison’ seem quite to fit the bill?

l’homme fatal
The phrase occurs twice in the works of Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac (1594–1654). In his Socrate chrestien (1652), Discourse 8: ‘Il devoit perir, cét Homme fatal (nous le considerasmes il y a quelques jours dans l’Histoire de l’Empire d’Orient) il devoit perir des le premier jour de sa conduite, par une telle ou une telle entreprise; Mais Dieu se vouloit servir de luy, pour punir le Genre humain, & pour tourmenter le Monde: La Iustice de Dieu se vouloit venger, & avoit choisi cét Homme pour estre le Ministre de ses vengeances.’ And in his Dissertations critiques / Dissertations de critique (1654), Dissertation 26: ‘Denis fut ainsi deschiré, en la personne du Cyclope Polypheme: Et comme Tibere a esté, apres sa mort, l’image de l’Homme fatal; durant sa vie, Agamemnon estoit l’image de Tibere.’ See Les oeuvres de Monsieur de Balzac (Paris, 1665) ii 237, 679. Also used of Wellington by Chateaubriand (1768–1841[?]), Mémoires d’outre-tombe: p. 474 in Maurice Levaillant’s edition (Paris, 1948), vol. 2. Any earlier uses?

Mistress Nature, ‘supremely great and sovereign fair’

nicht Wissenschaft, bloß Kunst
Perhaps based on Bismarck, 15 March 1884: ‘Die Politik ist keine Wissenschaft, wie viele der Herren Professoren sich einbilden, sie ist eben eine Kunst.’ See ODQ 3/e 84.24, Duden xii 701. See p. 420 in Bismarck, Die gesammelte Werke, vol. 12, Reden, 1878 bis 1885, ed. Wilhelm Schützler, 2nd ed. (Berlin, 1929); p. 175 in Bismarck, Parlamentarische Reden, ed. Wilhelm Böhm and A. Dove, 16 vols (Stuttgart etc., [1880?–91?]), vol. 13 ([1891?]).

‘Le romantisme c’est la révolution.’
Possibly derived from ‘Le romantisme c’est la révolution française faite en littérature’, attributed to Victor Hugo without a source by Erich Köhler, Das 19. Jahrhundert I, ed. Dietmar Rieger (Freiburg i. Br., 2006), 75; cf. Hugo, Preface (written 9 March 1830) to Hernani: ‘Le romantisme [...] n’est [...] que le libéralisme en littérature’ ?cf. also the Preface to Hugo’s Cromwell [e.g. ed. Emond Wahl: Préface du ‘Cromwell’ (Oxford, 1909)]

‘Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner’
Proverb of uncertain origin – perhaps a commonplace for centuries? This precise formulation is used by Tolstoy in War and Peace (1868), vol. 1, part 1, chapter 28 (the last in this book: chapter-numbering varies) and by Theodor Fontane in a letter to his wife dated 18 August 1876 – in both cases without attribution. Approximations to it (see Georg Büchmann, Geflügelte Wörte [und Zitatenschatz], s.v. ‘tout’: but his account is incomplete) appear, in chronological order, in Goethe, Torquato Tasso (1790), act 2, scene 1, line 1113 (‘was wir verstehen, das können wir nicht tadeln’); Madame de Staël, Corinne ou l’Italie (1807), book 18, chapter 5 (‘tout comprendre rend très-indulgent’); Goethe, ‘Derb und Tüchtig’, in Westöstlicher Divan (1819) (‘Denn wer einmal uns versteht / Wird uns auch verzeihn’); and Theodor Fontane, Frau Jenny Treibel (1892), chapter 7 (‘comprendre c’est pardonner’), where it is attributed to George Sand without reference (probably in error, says one of Fontane’s editors, without giving a reason).

‘History is what historians do.’

‘The triumph of despotism is to force the slaves to declare themselves free.’
This sentence (L 211) is treated by Berlin as a quotation, but I have not been able to find a published source for it. It might possibly derive from Goethe’s ‘Niemand ist mehr Sklave als der sich für frey hält ohne es zu sein’ (‘No one is more enslaved than he who believes that he is free without being so’), Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Tübingen, 1809) ii 202 (part 2, chapter 5, ‘From Ottilie’s Diary’).

‘Research is a condition of resentful inactivity.’


what Bakunin, in the course of an attack on Marx, described as la pédantocratie, the government by professors, which he regarded as one of the most oppressive of all forms of despotism
Was it Mill who coined the term ‘pédantocratie’, in a letter of 25 February 1842 to Auguste Comte? See Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J. M. Robson and others (Toronto/London, 1963–91) [CW], xiii 502. Comte liked it and adopted it, with Mill’s approval: see for example Catéchisme positiviste (Paris, 1852), p. 377. Mill used the term again later, in English, in On Liberty (chapter 5; CW xviii 308) and in Considerations on Representative Government (chapter 6; CW xix 439). A machine search of Bakunin’s works (available on CD) seems to show that Bakunin did not in fact use this exact term, though he does say in Gosudarstvennost´ i anarkhiia: ‘To be the slaves of pedants – what a fate for humanity!’ See p. 112 in Archives Bakounine, vol. 3, Étatisme et anarchie, 1873 (Leiden, 1967), and p. 134 in Michael Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, ed. and trans. Marshall Shatz (Cambridge etc., 1990). [An online chronology of Proudhon implies that Comte coined the term in 1840 in ‘La Pédantocratie académique’, in the Journal des débats, but I have been unable to check this as yet.]


In 1835, during the height of the post-Decembrist patriotic reaction in Russia, he attacked the older Russian literature as a mere ‘battle of frogs and mice’

Belinsky calls for worship of the universal creative spirits – Shakespeare, Homer, Goethe – and denounces all those who break away from the central creative stream of life – ‘sectarians, Quakers, scoundrels, vulgarians’

He is a ‘soldier in the army of the Lord’
?cf. ‘He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord’, ‘John Brown’s Body’, third verse, line 1 (Henry Button)

The frantic radical outbursts of the French romantics, ‘the Hugos, the Lamartines and the Janins’, are typical of that corrupt and superficial nation.

He declared war on the ‘destructive forces’ of subjectivism and individualism.

‘To live a dog’s life here on earth, only in order to be absorbed later into the universal substance, is not a very attractive prospect.’
(letter to Botkin)

Art is ‘the poetical analysis of the life of society’

‘Art gains nothing from being told that it is intelligent, truthful, profound, but unpoetical.’

‘Sociality, sociality! That is to me now the truth above all truths!’

he congratulated Herzen privately and publicly on the brilliance and depth of feeling with which he described and exposed a society governed by false standards, ‘in which the lover of a married woman is destroyed if he defies them and destroyed if he conforms’
(on Who is to Blame?)

he would have welcomed anything that awakened people, anything that forced them to stop and observe reality, however filled with ‘nasty, dirty people’, beggars, a drunken soldier, a pinched government clerk scurrying past with his portfolio under his arm, the whole horrible reality of daily life in Gogol’s St Petersburg

Böckh, August

whose last work, unfinished and unpublished, was called Hellene, ‘The Greek’


‘O rois, vous êtes des dieux’, observed Bossuet
The thought, but not this exact formulation, occurs passim in his ‘Sermon sur les devoirs des Rois’, 2 April 1662, in which he quotes ‘Vous êtes des dieux’ from Psalm 82: 6; perhaps IB is misquoting?

Brandeis, Justice Louis

‘The irresistible’, Justice Brandeis is said to have remarked, ‘is often only that which is not resisted.’

Carr, E. H.

When E. H. Carr maintains that to attribute historical events to the acts of individuals (‘biographical bias’) is ‘childish, or at any rate childlike’, and that the more impersonal we make our historical writing, the more scientific, and therefore mature and valid, it will be, he shows himself a faithful – too faithful – follower of the eighteenth-century dogmatic materialists.
The second quotation is from p. 45 of What is History? in the Penguin edition; but where is the first?


See Peter Yakovlevich Chaadayev, Philosophical Letters and an Apology of a Madman, trans. Mary-Barbara Zeldin (University of Tennessee Press, 1969): quotes not there in IB’s form, though there are related remarks (e.g. pp. 35–6)

[he] wrote another book called Apologie d’un fou (‘Apology of a Madman’), in which he said: ‘Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe God has created Russia for a special fate. Maybe the fact that we are backward means that we are fresh, we are young, we are unexhausted; perhaps we shall be able to profit by the attainments of the decaying West, in the way in which the West is too feeble to do.’
Paraphrase? cf. next item

‘Yes, we are young, we are barbarous, callow, ignorant, we are not in communion with European culture, but perhaps this is an advantage. Maybe because we are young and untried we are fresh; not exhausted by the great struggle for civilisation and domination which has so exhausted the now feeble and declining French, the commercial and narrow English, the neat, limited, pedantic, inhuman Germans. Perhaps we are being reserved for a marvellous fate. Perhaps we can really pluck the fruits of the tree which others have grown. Perhaps there is some special virtue in backwardness.’

‘What do we exist for? What is the particular purpose of the Russian nation?’
Paraphrase? cf. letter to F. I. Tyutchev, 1848, P. Ya. Chaadaev, Ctat´i i pis´ma (Moscow, 1987), p. 294: ‘So why then have we thus far not become aware of our mission in the world? Does the reason for this not lie perhaps in that very spirit of self-renunciation which you rightly note as the distinctive feature of our national character?’

‘Does my country exist? Does it have a past? A present?’

‘What about us, our culture? Why do we exist? Is there some particular goal or purpose for which we were created? The French clearly fulfill their natural selves; so do the English; Western culture is a going concern – it produces magnificent works of art and great works of science. And we? Have we a history to which we can look back with any degree of pride, something which will inspire us with glory, inspire us with examples for the future? Karamzin, indeed, has written a magnificent history of the Russian Empire, but if you look at it more closely you will find that our history is in fact empty. Our history contains nothing of the slightest interest to an educated man. Our history is the history of ignorance, brutality and failure. Our past is squalid: wandering tribes, feeble Byzantinism, Tartars, Poles, palace politics, the aping of foreign customs, poverty, stupidity, darkness. And our present? Our future? What is the cosmic mission of this great nation of many millions, living in sordid misery and ignorance? Is there some part for us to play in the drama of history? According to the romantic movement every human being, every human group, every association of human beings must have some kind of goal, some kind of purpose, the realising of which will give it satisfaction. What are our goals? Are we, perhaps, a slip, a mistake of the creator? Are we simply a hideous abortion of the creative process – a caution to other peoples, intended by God to warn them against following our own wretched path?’

‘They invent, we enjoy; they make the discoveries, they go through the terrible toil and tears and blood that are the price of creating a civilisation, while we, being fresh, young, strong, numerous, powerful, may be able simply to pluck the fruits of the trees which they have grown with such care and suffering, and even use them against their creators, or if not against them, at any rate for our own advantage.’


‘Only the truth liberates, and the only way in which I can learn the truth is by doing blindly today, what you, who know it, order me, or coerce me, to do, in the certain knowledge that only thus will I arrive at your clear vision, and be free like you.’
Probably a summarising paraphrase, not a quotation


‘two nations’ struggling in every community


‘the bent twig’
Of nationalism: elsewhere attributed to Schiller, but Schiller experts can’t locate it


‘Is everything permitted?’
The Possessed: ?really The Brothers Karamazov – Ivan: ‘if God does not exist, then everything is permitted’


‘What one has felt and thought in one language one can express with equal elegance in any other.’


‘Common sense is the deposit of prejudice laid down in the mind before the age of eighteen.’


It would be useful to have sources, where possible, even for paraphrases.

SW = Sämmtliche Werke
NW = Nachgelassene Werke

‘To question the authority of the great imperative, which only the philosophers can hear, is immoral in itself – it shows that you have no moral sense.’

‘the people has the moral right to realise its destiny by every weapon of cunning and of force’

‘At the mere mention of the name freedom my heart opens and flowers, while at the word necessity it contracts painfully.’
Quoted without ref. in Russian in article on Fichte in Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ (St Petersburg, 1890–1907), vol. 36, p. 50, col. 2: where does this come from?

‘To know is to impose a system, not to register passively’

‘laws are not drawn from facts, but from our own self’

‘Fichte begins to move towards a theological conception of the self; he says that the true, free self is not the empirical self which is clothed in a body and has a date and a place, it is a self which is common to all bodies, it is a super-self, it is a larger, divine self which he gradually begins to identify, now with nature, now with God, now with history, now with a nation.’

‘There are superior beings and there are inferior beings, as there is within me a higher and a lower nature, and I can rise to great heights in a moment of crisis, and crush my passions and desires and perform heroic acts of self-immolation in the name of a principle which raises me, which, as he says, catches me up in a flow of life. If I can suppress that which is lower in me, then the leader or the race can suppress that which is lower in it, as the spirit does the sinning flesh.’
Paraphrase? cf. xi 56, not close

Where did Fichte speak of an ‘iron ring’ as something integrating all social patterns like the Hegelian State?

For the following quotations I have references, but they are wrong. I include these in case they give clues to to the right references.

‘The individual must [...] be brought into contact with exemplary men, who would elevate him and teach him how he ought to be [...] There is no other way of culture.’
SW iv 215

Like any work of art, the Gattung ‘possesses organic unity’.
SW vii 95

‘Unless I raise myself to moral freedom, I do not act, but Nature acts through me.’
SW ii 134

‘Free will, as such, is the sole criterion of truth.’
SW vi 21


‘Sonate, que me veux-tu?’
Rousseau, ‘Sonate’, Encyclopédie (revised for Dictionnaire de musique, 1768) [not the first citation?]
Quoted without ref. in Fernand Baldensperger, Sensibilité musicale et romantisme (Paris, 1925), p. 15 and, as ‘Sonate, que me veux-tu? De quoi s’agit-il?’ in Jean Chantavoine and Jean Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Le Romantisme dans la musique européenne (Paris, 1955), p. 166; what authority is there for the additional question? [probably none]


‘The reader should forget himself, me, the world, and live only in my work.’
Cited by Belinsky


References to Hamann’s writings are to Johann Georg Hamann, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Joseph Nadler (Vienna, 1949–57) (hereafter W), and Johann Georg Hamann, Briefwechsel, ed. Walther Ziesemer and Arthur Henkel (Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, 1955–79) (hereafter B), by volume, page and first line, thus: B i 202.2.

‘As man is made in God’s image, so is the body a picture of the soul.’
Paraphrase of W ii 198.2–9?

‘the best of the sophists’
Of Rousseau: cf. W ii 163.19? Possibly a reference to a letter to J. G. Lindner (12 October 1759) in which Hamann says: ‘Socrates – whose memorabilia I wrote – was, in his theory, the biggest idiot and, in his praxis, the biggest sophist.’ B i 428

‘There is no such thing as Reason – only reasoning.’
W i/ii?

The true image, he says, of the average man, the sane, sensible or rational man, is that of a sleepwalker, ‘a man who with infinite sagacity, reflection, coherence, talks, acts, executes perilous enterprises, and does this with greater assurance of touch than he would – or could – do it if his eyes were even a little open’.
From a letter


Hegel says somewhere that philosophy represents the mirror image of a society.

‘So much the worse for the facts!’
i.e when they contradict the theory? But see Leszek Kolakowski, ‘From Truth to Truth’, in Modernity on Endless Trial, p. 125:‘In the event that an ideology includes elements that are formulated as empirical truths and may be critically examined, yet simply turn out to be false, one may say, as Lukacs and Bloch did (following the example of Fichte), “All the worse for the facts”, and continue to adhere steadfastly to one’s belief.’

‘The spirit cheats us, the spirit intrigues, the spirit lies, the spirit triumphs.’


‘Ethics is the agriculture of the mind. To govern man is like breeding animals.’
First sentence = Système de la nature 1. 11; what of the second?


Herder took great pleasure in describing Hamann’s aesthetics as ‘Mosaic’

Herder on Voltaire: a ‘senile child’ with a corrosive wit in place of human feeling
Possible sources so far suggested: ‘this world’s most horrendous thing: a venerable old man three years old!’ Auch eine Philosophie, near the end of the third part of the first section; ‘This child, imagining himself an adult sage, blasphemes!’ ibid., near the end of the second part of the third section


‘we construct models of reality in order to test the reality of the model’


those high-minded but craven liberals who ‘at the same time undermine the old order and cling to it, light the fuse and try to stop the explosion’
From the Other Shore?

He had somehow persuaded himself that the uncorrupted Russian peasantry, with its natural socialism, would of itself suffice to solve the ‘greatest problem of the century’ – how to reconcile the claims of individual liberty with the demands of an inevitably more and more centralised authority, how to preserve personal life without ‘atomising’ society, the central dilemma which ‘the Western world has thus far failed to solve’.
From the Other Shore?


‘pure, useless learning’


‘the inner fastness of [man’s] mind’


When Keynes was made a peer he invited his friends to come and ‘laugh at him’

‘I think in thoughts’

Le Mercier de la Rivière

‘The legislator is merely the builder: the plan has been laid down by nature.’

‘the order of things which to our confused senses appears as that of space, of time, and of cause and effect, vanishes in the clear light of thought and gives way to an intellectual order in the mind of the creator or God. The things of the world, which are created in complete harmony with one another, continue to manifest this harmony or mutual agreement.’

Lewis, C. I.

‘There is no a priori reason for thinking that when we discover the truth it will prove interesting.’
‘There is no a priori reason for thinking that the truth, once discovered, will necessarily prove interesting.’
Apparently a typically Berlinian ‘improvement’ of this from p. 339 of Lewis’s Mind and the World-Order (1929): ‘If the truth should be complex and somewhat disillusioning, it would still not be a merit to substitute for it some more dramatic and comforting simplicity.’ That this is the source seems to be confirmed by a version in a talk on ‘Utilitarianism’, probably from 1937, in which IB writes, without ascription: ‘[T]here is no a priori reason why we should expect the truth, when found, to be dramatic.’


‘Soon you will find that your country will pass from barbarism to despotism with no intermediate civilised interval.’

Maistre had remarked after the French Revolution, ‘It was ideas that did it all.’


‘unity of theory and practice’
For this fundamental Marxist formula (not apparently expressed in exactly these terms by Marx himself, nor by Engels) see Georg Lukács, ‘What is Orthodox Marxism?’ (1919): pp. 2–3 in History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics [1923], trans. Rodney Livingstone (London, 1971). Leszek Kolakowski offers as a gloss ‘the understanding and transformation of reality are not two separate processes, but one and the same phenomenon’: Main Currents of Marxism: Its Origins, Growth and Dissolution (Oxford, 1978: Oxford University Press), vol. 3, The Breakdown, p. 270. For Soviet philosophy, in which it is repeated ad nauseam, it meant roughly ‘Physical sciences should work for Soviet industry; social and human sciences are instruments of political propaganda.’ Similar locutions (which should not, however, be regarded as equivalent in meaning, even mutatis mutandis) are used by Marx’s contemporaries. For example, Mill himself attributes the ‘union of theory and practice’ to the ancient Greeks in ‘On Genius’ (1832) at i 336; there are also references by Auguste Comte to ‘harmonie entre la théorie et la pratique’ (‘harmony between theory and practice’) in Système de politique positive, vol. 4 (1854), pp. 7, 172. More generally, of course, discussion of the relationship of theory and practice goes back to antiquity, perhaps originating in Socrates’ doctrine that virtue is knowledge; see also Diogenes Laertius 7. 125 on the Stoic view that ‘the virtuous man is both a theorist, and a practitioner of things doable’. Especially well known is Leibniz’s recommendation in 1700 ‘Theoriam cum praxi zu vereinigen’ (‘to combine theory with practice’) in his proposal to establish a Brandenburg Academy in Berlin – see Hans-Stephan Brather, Leibniz und seine Akademie: Ausgewählte Quellen zur Geschichte der Berliner Sozietät der Wissenschaften 1697–1716 (Berlin, 1993), p. 72. Is there something in Marx himself that fits the English phrase? If so, where?


‘the banker of the Enlightenment’
Of Voltaire


In 1824 he wrote in his journal, ‘Vico! Effort! Grandeur! The Golden Bough! Infernal Shades!’
‘Vico. Efforts. Infernal shades. Grandeur. The golden bough.’
From the introduction to The Autobiography of Giambattista Vico, translated by M. H. Fisch and T. G. Bergin (Cornell, 1963), p. 76
cf. Jules Michelet, Journal: Tome IV (1868–1874), ed. Claude Digeon (Paris, 1976), p. 110 (entry for 3 April 1869): ‘Ma jeunesse dévorée par ces élans: / 1824: Vico et la ténébr. grand.’ But this must rest on some fuller account?


‘History has no aims, but I do, and I mean to attain them.’

it is not the case that human beings are slaves of inexorable historical laws, ‘little toes’, as he put it, ‘upon the foot of some vast impersonal organism’

the ‘protomartyr of Russian literature’
On Belinsky

Mill, J. S.

what Mill called ‘the deepest interests of mankind’

It is truer to say of this, rather than of Mill’s far easier question, that ‘Whoever answers it will solve the problem of induction.’


‘History has seized us by the throat’, Mussolini is reported to have cried on learning of the Allied landing in Sicily.

Namier, L. B.

It was, I think, L. B. Namier who once remarked about historical sense that there was no a priori short-cut to knowledge of the past; what actually happened can be established only by scrupulous empirical investigation, by research in its normal sense.


on s’engage et puis on verra
Cited in David Chandler, On the Napoleonic Wars (London, 1994: Greenhill Books), p. 245, as ‘On s’engage, et alors on voit’, and as a remark made to Montholon at St Helena.

‘Small change for a Napoleon is not a Napoleon.’
cf. Engels to W. Borgius in Breslau, 25 January 1894: ‘in the absence of a Napoleon, someone else would have taken his place’, Marx and Engels, Collected Works (London, 1975–2004: Lawrence & Wishart), vol. 50, p. 266.


‘The Counter-Enlightenment’

There has been some unclarity about whether Berlin invented the term ‘the Counter-Enlightenment’ when he so titled his 1973 essay on the topic. In Joseph Mali and Robert Wokler (eds), Isaiah Berlin’s Counter-Enlightenment [Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 93 (2003) part 5], 26 note, Wokler cites an occurrence from 1958, adding: ‘For all I know, the term has an even longer pedigree in English. Now that what passes for civilisation has been transcribed on disk, it might be helpful if some computer hack were to trace every one of its published uses prior to 1973.’ Though I do not aspire to the status of computer hack, I have taken up his challenge, and report as follows.

The term was used fifty years earlier by Charles Gray Shaw in his The Precinct of Religion in the Culture of Humanity (London, 1908), 9, and in his entry on ‘Culture’ in James Hastings and others (eds), Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh, 1908–26), iv 358. It also appears before 1973 in Arthur Preston Whitaker and others, Latin America and the Enlightenment, ed. Arthur Preston Whitaker (New York, 1942), 86; in Charles W. Morris, ‘Empiricism, Religion and Democracy’, in Lyman Bryson and Louis Finkelstein (eds), Science, Philosophy, and Religion, 2nd symposium (New York, 1942), 213–41 at 214; in William Barrett, ‘Art, Aristocracy and Reason’, the third item in Richard Chase, Lionel Trilling and William Barrett, ‘The Liberal Mind: Two Communications and a Reply’, Partisan Review 16 No 6 (June 1949), 649–65, at 663–5 (the first occurrence is at 663: ‘Mr [Lionel] Trilling indicates what might be described as the Counter-Enlightenment in the figures of Pascal, Blake, Burke and Wordsworth’), and in the same author’s Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (New York, 1958), 244 (‘Existentialism is the counter-Enlightenment come at last to philosophical expression’); in Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and His Predecessors (Cambridge, MA, 1969), first at 8, then at 11 and in chapter 15, ‘The Counter-Enlightenment’ (which deals with Jacobi, Hamann and Herder), first at 362 (‘And at the height of the German Enlightenment there was a reaction which I shall call the “Counter-Enlightenment” ’); and elsewhere.

The equivalent German term ‘Gegen-Aufklärung’ dates back at least to Nietzsche’s Nachgelassene Fragmente of 1877 – Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Berlin, 1967), part 4, col. 2, p. 478, 22[17] – as has been noted by Wokler (op. cit., 26, note).

It is possible that Berlin was unaware of these earlier occurrences, in which case he would have re-invented the term; he himself was uncertain on this point.


‘When storms rage in the poet’s breast, and he is bewildered and confused, gibberish results.’


‘Do not fight prejudice; use it.’
This formulation untraced, but cf. Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society (London, 1935), vol. 1, Non-Logical Conduct, §§ 72–3


[Pushkin] spoke of Belinsky as ‘a queer character who for some strange reason seems to adore me’.


‘through an ocean of blood to the Kingdom of Love’ (or something like this) said Robespierre
IB may be referring to the passage where Robespierre writes that ‘en scellant notre ouvrage de notre sang, nous puissions voir au moins briller l’aurore de la félicité universelle’ (‘by sealing our work with our blood, we may see at least the bright dawn of universal happiness’), Rapport sur les principes de morale politique qui doivent guider la Convention nationale dans l’administration intérieure de la République [Paris, 1794], p. 4, but is there a closer passage?


Wolmar’s phalanstère is patriarchal (‘good morals and happiness more important than employment of possible talents some of which are harmful and best neglected’)


The Prince is ‘a handbook for gangsters’


On his death-bed he said to his disciples, ‘There is one thing I wish to say to you: love each other and help one another. My whole life can be summed up in one single thought – to assure all men the freest development of their faculties. The party of the workers shall be built – the future is with us.’
[To M[onsieur] O. Rodrigue:] ‘Souvenez-vous que, pour faire quelque chose de grand, il faut être passioné. Le résumé des travaux de toute ma vie c’est de donner, à toutes les membres de la société, la plus grande latitude pour le développement de leurs facultés.’ [later, last words:] ‘Nous tenons notre affaire.’ ‘Notices historiques I: Saint-Simon’, in Oeuvres de Saint-Simon et d’Enfantin , vol. 1 (Paris, 1865), pp. 121–2 [whence IB’s last sentence?]

‘the divine Smith’ [of Adam Smith]

‘history as composed of ‘organic and critical periods’
cf. Oeuvres xi 289–9 and Oeuvres choisies (1966) vi 20–1

the ‘rehabilitation of the flesh’


‘the bent twig’
See under Diderot

Schlegel, A. Willhelm

‘Robbers are romantic because I make them romantic; nothing is romantic by nature.’

Schlegel, Friedrich

‘The romantic art is [...] a perpetual becoming without ever attaining to perfection. Nothing can plumb its depths [...] It alone is infinite, alone free; its first law is the will of the creator, the will of the creator that knows no law.’ All art is an attempt to evoke by symbols the inexpressible vision of the unceasing activity which is life.
Up to ‘knows no law’: Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, ed. Ernst Behler, vol. 2, ed. Hans Eichner (Munich etc., 1967), p. 183.

‘Can the sacred be seized?’ asked Friedrich Schlegel, and he replied, ‘No, it can never be seized because the mere imposition of form deforms it.’


Spengler, when he insists that the streets of Greek cities were straight and crossed each other at right angles ‘because of the geometrical spirit of the Greeks’

Leslie Stephen

Leslie Stephen tells us that an eighteenth-century English traveller in France once remarked that it was ‘unnatural’ for soldiers to dress in blue, except, indeed, the Artillery or the Blue Horse.


‘Surtout, Messieurs, point de zèle.’ This maxim of Talleyrand’s appears in various forms. The earliest I have found is ‘N’ayez pas de zèle’, in C.-A. Sainte-Beuve, ‘Madame de Staël’ (1835): vol. 2, p. 1104, in Sainte-Beuve, Oeuvres, ed. Maxime Leroy ([Paris], 1949–51). The version quoted first appears in Philarète Chasles, Voyages d’un critique à travers la vie et les livres (1865–8), vol. 2, Italie et Espagne, p. 407. In this latter version ‘point’ is often replaced by ‘pas trop’, but I have found no nineteenth-century authority for this wording.

Those who denounce [the 18th cent.] suppose this to have been an elegant and peaceful age: those who did not know it, did not know the true douceur de la vie, as Talleyrand said.
probably a version of what appears in [F. P. G.] Guizot, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de mon temps, vol. 1 (Paris, 1858), p. 6: ‘M. Talleyrand me disait un jour: “Qui n’a pas vécu dans les années voisines de 1789 ne sait pas ce que c’est que le plaisir de vivre.” ’


‘The irony of the cosmos plays with us all’
Followed in IB’s citation by: ‘the visible is about us like carpets with shimmering colours and patterns [...] beyond the carpets is a region populated by dreams and delirium, none dare lift the carpet and peer beyond the curtain’ (William Lovell, book 6, letter 9, William Lovell to Rosa).


the only cure for this [the shortcomings of decmocracy], as Tocqueville himself maintained (it may be a little half-heartedly), is more democracy
?From Michael St John Packe, The Life of John Stuart Mill (London, 1954), p. 203)
From Democracy in America? But Packe implies this is Mill’s view, not Tocqueville’s?


‘Poetry is a flame that lights up in a man’s soul. This fire burns and it warms and gives light. Most people only see the light. Writers go about with lamps and illuminate life. Some poets, after the fire has died in them, simply give warmth, but real poets cannot help burning. They are tormented by the flame and their flame burns others. That is the whole thing, that is the real definition of art.’
Paraphrase of a passage in Tolstoy’s Notebook No 4 (1865–72), 28 October 1870: L. N. Tolstoy, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow/Leningrad, 1928–64), p. 128, lines 16–27: more literally ‘There are people who feel the heat, others who feel the warmth, others see only the light, others do not even see the light. The majority – the crowd, who judge the poets – do not feel the heat or warmth but see only the light. And they all think that the business of poetry is just to give light. People who think like this themselves become writers and go about with a lantern, lighting up life. (They naturally think that light is needed more where things are dark and disorderly.) Others understand that it’s the warmth that matters and they artificially warm what is warmed conveniently (true poets often do both things too in places where the flame does not burn in them). But the true poet himself burns with suffering and whether he likes it or not, and he burns others. That is what it is all about.’

‘I do not want to know the name of Ivan the Terrible’s fourth wife,’ he said; ‘I do not want to know the name of the snake which bit Prince Oleg. I want answers to serious questions. Sociology is worse still: Marx, Buckle, Comte, Spencer – all this is empty and unilluminating.’
First bit (to ‘Oleg’) from memoir by V. N. Nazar’ev, ‘Zhizn i lyudi bylogo vremeni’, Vosp. sov. i 61–2 (lit. ‘The death of Igor, the serpent, the stinging of Oleg – are these not folk tales? Why should anyone have to know that the second marriage of Ivan the Terrible to the daughter of Temryuk took place on 21 August 1652, or that the fourth to Anna Alekseevna Koltovsky happened in 1572?’)

‘In the villages’, says Tolstoy, ‘people complain about our priests because they are drunk and because they are ignorant. Well, they are indeed drunk and ignorant. And they complain about parents because they are brutal. But being drunk and ignorant and brutal is at least natural; it creates natural human relationships, even if they are not satisfactory. At least this is better than the awful relations of educational specialists when they get hold of children. All that scientifically trained, modern, progressive educational specialists do, especially German pedagogues, is to feed living human beings into some vast mechanical contraption, so-called modern educational techniques, something which is invented by fanatical German fools who think that scientific contraptions of this sort can be used to develop the living souls of living men.’

what Tolstoy calls ‘the professors and barons and bankers’


‘Anyone desiring a quiet life has done badly to be born in the twentieth century.’
A free rendering of what might more literally be translated as ‘Those among our contemporaries who expect history to provide them with quiet and comfort above all else have chosen a bad time to be born in’, from ‘German Fascism in Power: Origins and Perpectives’ (10 March 1933); unpublished in print?

‘the magic of distance’


‘Reality – the chaos of reality, its unevennesses – exasperates the reader’


‘M’ = Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, [ed. Louis Moland,] 52 vols (Paris, 1877–85)

‘History is only a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead’
‘J’ai vu un temps où vous n’aimiez guère l’histoire; ce n’est après tout qu’un ramas de tracasseries [chicanery] qu’on fait aux morts.’ Letter to Pierre-Robert Le Cornier de Cideville, 9 February 1757. Cf. The Complete Works of Voltaire, vol. 82 (Geneva and Toronto, 1968) (= Notebooks, vol. 2, ed. Theodore Besterman), p. 452: ‘Un historien est un babillard [chatterer] qui fait des tracasseries aux morts.’

‘We know perfectly well what is true and what is false. We know when these people produce their absurd inventions. Myths are simply idiotic nonsense which a lot of idiots have managed to contrive to persuade themselves to believe, which no sane man need have believed for a moment.’
Paraphrase? cf. M xxviii 25, xxxi 114–15

‘If you have no more to tell us than that one barbarian succeeded another barbarian on the banks of the Oxus or the Iaxartes, what use are you to the public?’ [M xix 367] Why should we be interested in the fact that in China ‘Quancum succeeded Kincum, and Kicum succeeded Quancum’ [M xiii 162]? Why should we want to know about what barbarian captain in the middle ages contended with some bishop or other about rule over some imbecile serfs? We do not want to know about the life of Louis the Fat or Louis the Obstinate [M xix 365]. We do not want to hear about the barbarous Shakespeare or the unreadable Milton. What we want to hear about are the achievements of Galileo, Newton, Tasso and Addison, not about Shalmaneser or Mardokempad [S & M: M xvi 137].
cf. this passage:
He imagines that his mistress, Mme du Châtelet, says to him, ‘What is the point, for a Frenchwoman like me [...] of knowing that in Sweden Égil succeeded King Haquin, or that Ottoman was the son of Ortogul?’ [M xxiv 41] She is perfectly right, says Voltaire: there is no point. In the great Essai sur les moeurs, the famous essay on mores, on manners, he says: There is no point in knowing in which year one prince who does not deserve to be remembered succeeded another barbarian prince of some uncouth nation. ‘If you have no more to tell us than that one barbarian succeeded another barbarian on the banks of the Oxus or the Iaxartes, what use are you to the public?’ [M xix 367] Why should we be interested in the fact that in China ‘Quancum succeeded Kincum, or Kicum succeeded Quancum’ [M xiii 162]? Why should we want to know about what barbarian captain in the middle ages contended with some bishop or other about rule over some imbecile serfs? We do not want to know about the life of Louis the Fat or Louis the Obstinate [M xix 365]. We do not want to hear about the barbarous Shakespeare or the unreadable Milton. What we want to hear about are the achievements of Galileo, Newton, Tasso and Addison, not about Shalmaneser or Mardokempad [S & M: M xvi 137]. Historians must not clutter the minds of their readers with accounts of idiocies, religious wars or other stupidities which degrade mankind, or with the foundation of religious sects, which were always founded on some idiocy or other. Of course, from time to time they ought to do this in order to show them how low human beings can sink, in order to prevent them from doing this; and that is why, no doubt, we ought to write about Philip II of Spain or, let us say, St Bartholomew’s Eve, or Cromwell – about the sort of figures who are to be avoided at all costs. What is worth knowing is why, for example, the Emperor Charles V did not profit more by the capture of King Francis I of France, or the importance, say, of the dirigiste policy of Colbert in France compared with that of Sully. As for horrors, they too are to be detailed if we are to avoid another St Bartholomew’s Eve or another Cromwell.

‘Soul, character, dominant motives, all that sort of thing is an impenetrable chaos which can never be firmly grasped. Whoever, after centuries, would disentangle this chaos simply creates more.’

‘Anything not in keeping with natural science, with reason, with the nature [trempe] of the human heart is false’

‘We know that monuments are ‘historical lies’ and ‘that there is not a single temple or college of priests, not a single feast in the Church, that does not originate in some idiocy’.
For ‘mensonges historiques’ see M xxv 585, xxvii 296 and (in singular) xvi 392 – none about monuments as such.

myths are ‘the ravings of savages and the inventions of knaves’

Whitehead, Alfred North

the rise of science as the ‘revolt of matter’

Wilson, Edmund

‘How can you write prose in America? There is no tradition.’
In a discussion of prose recent in 1966)

These quotations (some of which may not in fact merit the title) are scattered through Isaiah Berlin’s writings. See also a separate list of problems in Russian Thinkers. Any assistance in finding sources will be gratefully received and acknowledged. Please email Henry Hardy.

For solutions and suggestions already received I should like to thank Paul Allatson, Fred Beiser, José Tomaz Castello Branco, Terrell Carver, Joshua Cherniss, Stephen Clark, Andrew Drozd, W. Jaap Engelsman, Andrew Fairbairn, Richard Freeborn, Graeme Garrard, Steffen Groß, Samuel Guttenplan, Aileen Kelly, Jean O’Grady, Thomas Mautner, Ernie Metzger, Ralf Michaels, Ray Monk, Derek Offord, Tatiana Pozdnyakova, Helen Rappaport, Marshall Shatz and the late Robert Wokler.