Hollande's famous words: Not Shakespeare's, nor Shakespeare's

by Toby Manhire / 31 January, 2012
The mystery of the French presidential hopeful's misattribution grows curiouser and curiouser.

François Hollande was full of fire and passion. Addressing a 20,000-strong crowd, the man hotly tipped to topple Nicolas Sarkozy in this year’s French presidential election invoked that “universal message”, as famously framed by Shakespeare: “They failed because they did not start with a dream.”

One problem. The Daily Telegraph’s Paris correspondent Harry Samuel picks up the story:

Nicholas Shakespeare, journalist, novelist, biographer and direct descendant of William's grandfather, said: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the French presidential candidate had quoted me."

He instantly recognised the words as coming from his 1989 novel, The Vision of Elena Silves.

It is unlikely to help Mr Hollande's campaign to discover they were uttered by the novel's hero, Gabriel, a Maoist revolutionary who ends up a terrorist for the murderous Peruvian guerrilla group, Shining Path.

Their motto was: "Marxism – Leninism will open the shining path to revolution".

"He is saying the last Marxist revolution of the Sixties had failed, but his is going to succeed and the idea is that they failed because they did not have a dream," said Mr Shakespeare.

It would be tidier, in a way, if the yarn ended there, but it doesn’t.

In a piece for the Telegraph the following day, Mr N Shakespeare issued a mea culpa: he had combed through his novel, and the quote was after all nowhere to be found.

The idea is hardly original – that dreams are a good thing – but at the moment I don’t know where it comes from. In short, I am mortified that I went along so enthusiastically with the misattribution, and I ask for Hollande’s forgiveness.

As any schoolchild knows, it has to matter who said it – and I will continue to pay my children 20p a chapter to work alongside me to locate the prodigal phrase. To be under the impression that I wrote something I may not have done is unsettling.

Where then did those confounded words come from? Did he just make them up, thinking they sounded kind of Bard-ish?

Hollande, as far as I can tell, has remained silent on the matter. But a little online sleuthing suggests one fresh avenue.

Plug the original French phrase as uttered by Hollande – "Ils ont échoué parce qu'ils n'ont pas commencé par le rêve" – into Google, and, amid the results, there are various attributions to Shakespeare, including this one, which says the phrase comes from Hamlet. Chances are this is where Hollande or his speechwriter found the line.

A search of Hamlet appears to confirm that no such quote appears there.

But search for the French phrase in Google Books and up pops a solitary result:

This is from a French thriller novel called 127 J, by someone called Jean Marc Cornelle. Unfortunately the footnote itself is not visible in the Google Books preview. But Lewis Carroll? However mangled the spelling, it sounds promising.

Sadly, a quick search of the Alice books fails to turn up the words, but such dreamy aphorism does have the air of Alice (or the March hare?) about it.

Curiouser and curiouser.
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