Origins of Goethe commitment quote

By Ken | Uncategorized

Aug 26

For many years now, one of my favorite quotes has been: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

I’ve learned that this quote is not by Goethe as is commonly held. It does have it’s origins in Goethe’s writings and was actually introduced by John Anster in his paraphrased translation of Faust to English in 1835.

So perhaps a better way to attribute the quote is to say that it is Goethe as paraphrased by John Anster in 1835.

Further defining the power of this couplet is this, apparently from W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951:

But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. 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!’


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