June 13, 2021

"What's that thing, I think, Voltaire said — 'Not that I should succeed, but that my friends should fail'?"

Said Duncan Trussell, near the end of a new 3-hour Joe Rogan podcast. 


I love Duncan Trussell, who is also, and very obviously, Joe Rogan's favorite guest, but I think he's got the attribution wrong. 

I associate it with Gore Vidal, but in the form "It is not enough to succeed; others must fail." No friends in that picture. 

But Quote Investigator looked into a set of similar quotes, one of which was "It is not enough to succeed; one’s friends must fail."

I think it's better without dragging the friend relationship into the concept, but the oldest appearance of the approximate idea was: "Now that I’ve grown old, I realize that for most of us it is not enough to have achieved personal success. One’s best friend must also have failed." 

That's Somerset Maugham (quoted in 1959). There's an older appearance if you count this as the same thing: "In the misfortune of our best friends, we always find something which is not displeasing to us." That's La Rochefoucauld (in the 17th century). He also said, "We all have strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others." 

Gore Vidal's name comes up in a 1973 NYT article by Wilfrid Sheed. Vidal is quoted saying "Every time a friend succeeds I die a little," and then Sheed goes on to credit La Rochefoucauld for the quote, "it is not enough to succeed; a friend must also fail." 

The first use of the form that I think is best — "It is not enough to succeed; others must fail" — comes from Iris Murdoch in 1973.

Anyway, leave Voltaire out of it. He wouldn't say that. Would he?

IN THE EMAIL: 2 readers — policraticus and dksd — independently thought of this New Yorker cartoon by Leo Callum (from 1997):


Ann Althouse said...

Dave Begley says: "“I really didn’t say everything I said.” Yogi Berra"

Ann Althouse said...

Joan sends a link to Morrissey's "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful"

Quote from Spin: "Nobody exudes pettiness—or a passive-aggressive attitude—better than Morrissey. Exhibit A: This rather cheerful takedown of the Manchester music scene’s hatred of ambitious musicians. “In Manchester, you are accepted as long as you are scrambling and on your knees,” Morrissey told Q in 1992. “But if you have any success or are independent or a free spirit, they hate your guts.” In other words, it’s no surprise the song is dominated by Morrissey’s derisive, devilish laugh."

Ann Althouse said...

Bob Boyd recounts an old story: "Reminds me of the old Russian fable about two peasants, Boris and Ivan. They were both very poor, but Boris had a goat and Ivan didn't. One day Ivan came upon a strange-looking lamp. When he rubbed the dirt off it, a genie appeared and offered to grant him one wish. Ivan said, "I wish Boris' goat would die.""

Ann Althouse said...

Lem writes:

This is similar to a quote read at the beginning of a radio show I used to listen in the 90’s.

The Seven Second Delay Benediction

Dear Lord

May My Show Succeed
And May The Shows of My Friends Fail
And Yet May I Still Be Perceived

As a Team Player


WFMU | 7 Second Delay Home

Ann Althouse said...

Tom writes:

I'm late to the game here but it all reminds me of the Steve Goodman song Somebody Else's Trouble:

"He knows it ain't too hard to get along with somebody else's troubles
And they don't make you lose any sleep at night
Just as long as fate is out there bustin' somebody else's bubbles
Everything is gonna be alright
And everything will be alright"

Ann Althouse said...

Assistant Village Idiot writes:

""Similarly, there is the story about the Baptist preacher. "We had a revival week last month. No one got saved. The Methodists had a revival week that ended yesterday. Thank God no one got saved there, either.""

Ann Althouse said...


You wrote: "The first use of the form that I think is best — 'It is not enough to succeed; others must fail' — comes from Iris Murdoch in 1973."

If I were unfamiliar with Murdoch, I would read this as meaning she had said it as an expression of her own feelings. Why? Because the context is how often that comment -- or some version of it -- is attributed to Gore Vidal, who was definitely saying it in his own waspish voice.

But Murdoch only used it in the voice of a character in one of her novels. The narrator of The Black Prince attributes the quote to "some clever writer (probably a Frenchman)" -- possibly referring to La Rochefoucauld ... or perhaps Jules Renard.

Renard was one of the few writers Vidal admitted to admiring. Back when I was a fan of Vidal (in my defense, I was 18 or 19), I came across an interview in which he praised Renard, so I went to the library and checked out The Journal of Jules Renard. All I remember was about it was that I came across a version of that quote and realized that Vidal had stolen it from him. But Renard may have cadged it from La Rochefoucauld.

Ann Althouse said...

Wholelottasplainin' writes:

Here's a another writer, celebrating his rival's failure:


'The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered'

(Clive James)

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

(much more malicious glee at the link)