William Hutchison Murray on the first step in the climbing of mountains

Map of the Ralam Pass, NepalImage credit: Trans Himalayan Trek

Map of the Ralam Pass, Nepal
Image credit: Trans Himalayan Trek

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. 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, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

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

William Hutchison Murray in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, (1951), p. 6.

Credits

This quotation, with minor variations, is generally misattributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Goethe Society of North America, frequently asked and unable to ascertain the source of the quotation in the works of Goethe himself, eventually deduced the actual source as W.H. Murray.

The most common variation of this quotation appears as:

  • 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.
William Hutchison Murray Posted on behalf of William Hutchison Murray on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 under Misattributions, Quotations.

2 comments

  1. Interesting. I always think a quotation is an interesting object to posit as sort of indirectly belonging to anybody. Who said what, when … well, after all, irregardless of the interlopers regardlessness, I guess there’s no question that to be brought up indicates that someone is saying it now! Or is it more appropriate to suggest that they are actually reflecting it, and somehow not saying it at all? Maybe they’re only saying it as a means to reflect upon it, in which case, are they not merely recirculating reflection — like a house of mirrors? But we don’t make children quote their parents when they learn what an apple is? Can you imagine? “That is an apple, as first established in word by my mother to me in the third fortnight of my second year.” But that would be a bit solipsistic, as though the concept “apple” only came into being when it came into your being; not only as a word, but as one you actually were able to dicpher and then remember. But so, Hutchinson, in paraphrasing the “seed” of a thought that may only exist in translation to begin with, may be labelled: misattributor?

    Reminds me of the present mess at university level occurring with questions of plagiarism in undergraduate course work. So people spend enormous amounts of time trying to discover algorithms that can parse, in some statistical way, the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarizing, and then use these to decide upon young people’s futures — whether they will be kicked out of school, or not, for example. What makes it even more interesting, is that in some hard sciences, for example, the interpretation of say some phenomenon is not considered, in some fairly objective sense, as being subjective. And yet! — the way in which that understanding is conveyed is required to be “measurably subjective.” Measurably subjective. So in time, of course, with all these “phrases” being stored in electronic files, the question will become — “how many ways is it possible to impart the same basic information in a finite number of words?” And then, what is the probability that any two of those possible ways may ultimately coincide, by chance? When this happens, the subjective nature of the thought is lost, but then … the probability of this occurring legitimately must be finite. But then, what happens to the notions of the so-called uniqueness of presentation? Seems like a trap. I wonder if there is any way out of it ….

  2. Hi @c, nice to see you here and thanks for sharing these fantastic observations.

    You bring up so many things in your comment that it’s difficult to know where to begin, and so I suppose I will take this quotation’s advice and just begin :)

    There is a difference in kind(ness) between the seeking out of misattributions or appropriations for punitive purposes (accusations of plagiarism or unoriginality) and the identification of pathways somehow lost in order to travel back to “more original” sources. Here at Entersection, my approach is to seek out quotations of merit and raise signposts (at entersections) directing travelers who happen upon them to what I regard as quality information.

    I think it’s interesting that I didn’t write “quality information and authors” there, and that’s a good sequeway to why I quoted “”more original””: I’m not sure what to believe about the “true original source” of anything when it gets down to it. Did ~I~ just make that up? Or did God speak through me? Or was that just the output from a minor daemon executing in the background? I think it is hard to admit to this uncertainty while investing heavily in copyright, patents, and the entire framework of Western intellectual property law – unless one recognizes something like the following.

    People who tend to utter interesting and useful things tend to keep on doing so. And so I like to support those people, and point the way to their work. I say, “Hey look, over there, that’s the good stuff.” I’d like to credit the computer games of my youth for influencing that approach, with its canonical metaphor of the dungeon treasure hunting expedition. Similarly, you have to dive into books (and now video, audio, the Interwebs)—information—to find the good stuff. And the experiences you have in doing so will transform you.

    And here, the contentious (and forewarned): depending on what you read. Hence my emphasis on the safely ambiguous term “quality.” But look no further than Robert Pirsig’s _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_ for the best treatment of that word and my usage of it.

    Now that you make me think about it—and thank you for that, an act for which I will always be grateful—I am a mapmaker. And as many people have said (I promise to research tomorrow morning!) “the map is not the territory.” The map becomes a territory all its own. Will Entersection become a house of mirrors? I do not know, but already you have helped me see myself better.

    gf

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