Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

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Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by Sator » Sun Nov 13, 2011 7:26 pm

In German a popular quotation of "Thomas Morus", or Thomas More, goes something like this - in this instance, as paraphrased by Gustav Mahler to the point that it is occasionally attributed to him:

"Tradition ist die Weitergabe des Feuers und nicht die Anbetung der Asche."

Namely "tradition is the handing down of the flame and not the worshipping of ashes".

It's a pretty apt Mahler quotation considering that he also said:

"Was ihr Theaterleute Tradition nennt, das ist Bequemlichkeit und Schlamperei"

"What you theatre people call tradition is just cosiness and laziness"

Does anyone here know their Thomas More well enough to tell me what the original English quotation paraphrased by Mahler was? Oddly enough, I can't find it on Google except in German translation. It doesn't seem to be a popular quotation in its English original.

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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by some guy » Sun Nov 13, 2011 7:58 pm

Sator wrote:die Anbetung der Asche.
There's a lot of that going around.
Sator wrote:Does anyone here know their Thomas More well enough to tell me what the original English quotation paraphrased by Mahler was?
Doesn't ring a bell. It's been many decades since I studied More in university, though. So it may well be there somewhere.
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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 13, 2011 8:06 pm

As a sometimes student of Thomas More I would venture a guess that you cannot find this saying attributed to him in English because he never said it. I may be wrong, but it certainly does not sound like anything More, who as evidenced by his martyrdom worshiped tradition in a rather literal way, would say.

Here is an online colloquy--yes, in German--on this saying in which at least one respondent suggests a 19th century origin:

http://www.zitate-online.de/literaturzi ... asche.html


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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by John F » Sun Nov 13, 2011 8:59 pm

Mahler wrote his German-language version of the aphorism as an inscription, without giving a source. A version of the aphorism crops up on several web sites attributed to "Jean Janses," which I suppose is a misreading of Jean Jaurès: "Être fidèle à la tradition, c'est être fidèle à la flamme et non à la cendre." Jaurès, a famous French socialist politician and a defender of Dreyfus, was a contemporary of Mahler's and his writings and sayings are likely to have been current in German in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Whether Jaurès coined the saying or borrowed it, I can't find out.

As for the others named at the Zitate site, including Thomas Morus and Benjamin Franklin, the site doesn't give actual bibliographic sources so it's impossible to tell whether they've got it right. The discussion on the site doesn't clarify things. If More really was the original source, he may not have written it in English, as his most famous work, "Utopia," is in Latin.
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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 13, 2011 11:07 pm

John F wrote: If More really was the original source, he may not have written it in English, as his most famous work, "Utopia," is in Latin.
Entering Latin words that would likely be in such a phrase also turns up nothing relevant. Not that I'd expect everything More wrote in Latin (which is almost everything he wrote, not just Utopia) to be accessible online. :wink:

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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by John F » Sun Nov 13, 2011 11:51 pm

More's other best-known work, his unfinished biography of Richard III, is in Latin and English versions, and Shakespeare would have worked from the English version (he used English translations of Ovid and Plutarch though he could read Latin). That subject wouldn't have lent itself to pithy observations about tradition, but his English translation of a biography of the contemporary philosopher Pico della Mirandola possibly might.
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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by Sator » Mon Nov 14, 2011 1:05 am

The first time I came across the quote, it was attributed to Mahler. I then Googled it, as I had forgotten the exact phrasing only to find different and rather confusing attributions. This sums them up:

Thomas Morus (1477/78-1535): "Tradition ist nicht das Halten der Asche, sondern das Weitergeben der Flamme."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790, amerik. Staatsmann): "Tradition heißt nicht, Asche zu bewachen, sondern die Glut anzufachen".
Jean Jaurès (1859-1914, franz. Philosoph und Politiker): "Tradition ist nicht das Bewahren der Asche, sondern das Schüren der Flamme."
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911, deutscher Komponist): "Tradition ist die Weitergabe des Feuers und nicht die Anbetung der Asche."
Ricarda Huch (1864-1947, deutsche Schriftstellerin): "Tradition ist Weiterreichen der Glut, nicht der kalten Asche."
Johannes XXIII.: "Tradition heißt: Das Feuer hüten und nicht die Asche aufbewahren*." (anonym: "bewachen")

From: http://www.helmut-zenz.de/hztradit.html

Not a single bibliographic source is given so you can't really look any of them up. I too am struggling to find anything similar to the Benjamin Franklin version of this quote in English which roughly translates to "tradition is not about guarding the ashes but keeping the flame alive". It casts a long shadow of doubt over the authenticity of any of them.

In any case, it's a rather scrumptious quote, but it you did cite it, it is awfully hard to know who to attribute it to. Of course, I am prejudiced towards wanting to attribute it to Mahler!

BTW did any one pick up on the error: Gustav Mahler (1860-1911, deutscher Komponist). I am sure an Austrian would have had a fit :) It's still nice that in German it is not unusual in everyday life to quote composers as you might a writer or a statesman. I came across the Mahler "quote" in a totally non-musical setting.

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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by John F » Mon Nov 14, 2011 5:45 am

That part of Helmut Zens's page is probably taken from this:

http://www.zitate-online.de/literaturzi ... asche.html

The comments may interest you if you haven't seen them.
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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by Sator » Mon Nov 14, 2011 6:34 am

I didn't realise they had a discussion board attached to that. They are saying much the same thing as we are. This one post there was illuminating, and included a good English version:
Ob Sir Thomas More wirklich sagte: Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame"
scheint mir zweifelhaft - lt. gooogle scheinen nur die Deutschen das zu glauben.

Auf English gibt es aber ein altes Zitat dazu:

They but preserve the Ashes, thou the Flame,
True to his Sense, but truer to his Fame.
Sir John Denham
1615-1669

Da der Autor fast vergesses ist, das "Zitat" aber so wunderbar,
wurde evtl. der heilige Thomas genommen ... ?
In his Preface to Ovid's Epistles (1680), his first discussion of translation, Dryden indicates but does not explicitly acknowledge the impact Denham had on him. Several times he refers to Denham's theories, twice quoting from him at some length. The first quotation comes as he reiterates the Horatian warning against word for word translation: "Too faithfully is indeed pedantically: 'tis a faith like that which proceeds from Superstition, blind and zealous: Take it in the Expression of Sir John Denham, to Sir Rich. Fanshaw, on his Version of Pastor Fido." He then quotes the relevant lines from Denham's poem:

That servile path, thou nobly do'st decline,
Of tracing word by word and Line by Line;
A new and nobler way thou do'st pursue,
To make Translations and Translators too:
They but preserve the Ashes, thou the Flame,
True to his Sense, but truer to his Fame. (1:115)
The poster questions whether the quote really came from More. He digs up a quote from Sir John Denham and how Dryden refers to him.

Another poster points out that the Duden "Quotes and Citations" book attributes the quote to Jean Jaurés (1859-1914). Other posters reinforce the fact that the quote is often attributed to Mahler. Certainly the particular German phrasing of the saying seems to be Mahler's, and it is in this form that it is most often used.

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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by Sator » Mon Nov 14, 2011 6:45 am

I see there is also this discussion on Wikipedia:
Thomas More quote

It appears that Gustav Mahler once attributed an aphorism, "tradition is the passing on of the fire, not the worship of the ashes" as based on Thomas More. Strangely, I fail to find the original quote. The attribution to More is invariably in German language sources[1] that seem to just take Mahler's attribution for granted. Benjamin Franklin appears to have said something similar, about "guarding the ashes" and "rekindling the embers", but again, vexingly, the English language "quote" is only found on German language websites[2] I even fail to find a decent source for Mahler's aphorism. here the Mahler quote is even translated back into English, but with no other "source" other than simply "Gustav Mahler".

The only thing I could find was a quote by Sir John Denham who in 1647 prefaced a translation of Il Pastor Fido by Giovanni Battista Guarini with

A new and nobler way thou dost pursue
To make translations, and translators too;
They but preserve the ashes, thou the flame,
True to his sense, but truer to his fame.

So, is there a genuine quote by Thomas More this is all based on, and is there really a Franklin and a Mahler version?
This person suggests that the misattribution of the quote to Thomas More may have come from Mahler himself. The Denham quote too seems to have been taken from another author yet again!

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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by John F » Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:14 am

Denham's poem is about translation, not tradition. The metaphor has many applications, including this by Shakespeare about old age (Sonnet 73):

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.

In the comment you quote, "It appears" is not an attribution but weasel words, as the commenter doesn't say why he/she thinks it appears so.

More's name doesn't appear in the indexes of the 3 big volumes I have of de la Grange's exhaustive biography, so unless the inscription dates from Mahler's early years (we don't even know that), looks like a dead end. Undoubtedly de la Grange knows the answer, and I expect it's buried somewhere in the thousands of pages of his Mahler biography, but I'm not hunting for it. :)
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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by THEHORN » Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:25 am

In German , "Schlampereir" doesn't mean laziness, but sloppiness .

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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by some guy » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:14 pm

That's "Schlamperei" not "Schlampereir."
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
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Re: Gustav Mahler's Paraphrase of Thomas More

Post by Sator » Mon Nov 14, 2011 6:11 pm

Schlamperei means a lot of things. Duden says grosse Nachverlässigkeit. I sometimes just translate it as "slop" to capture the fact that it is not a formal word but more like slang. I cut and paste that translation with the term laziness and let it be, because it fitted into the rest of the phrase.

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