Tracking A Phrase

Brooks Haxton in Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus (2001) translates number 121 in his arrangement thus

One’s bearing
shapes one’s fate.

And feels compelled to add a note

This fragment is often translated; “Character is fate.” More literally, a man’s ethos is his daimon. A person’s customary ways of being and acting, in other words are that person’s guiding genius. I prefer the crisper phrasing, “Character is fate,” because the Greek is crisp, but meanings lost in the pithier version seem worth keeping.

And so we can compare with the introduction to Guy Davenport’s Herakleitos and Diogenes (1976 rpt 1979)

In Fragment 69 I have departed from literalness and accepted the elegant paraphrase of Novalis, “Character is fate.” The Greek says that ethos is man’s daimon: the moral climate of a man’s cultural complex (strickly, his psychological weather) is what we mean when we say daimon, or guardian angel. As the daimons inspire and guide, character is the cooperation between psyche and daimon. The daimon has foresight, the psyche is blind and timebound. A thousand things happen to us daily which we sidestep or do not even notice. we follow the events which we are characteristically predisposed to cooperate with, designing what happens to us: character is fate.

And so I went searching for Novalis’s German. And found The Thread of Connection: Aspect of Fate in the Novels of Jane Austen and Others (Rodopi, 1982) by C. C. Barfoot, on page 192, note 8

‘”Character,” says Novalis, in one of his questionable aphorisms, “character is destiny”. But not the whole of our destiny.’ (The Mill on the Floss, VI, vi, Clarendon Edition, ed. Gordon S. Haight, Oxford, 1980, p. 353.) George Eliot goes on to suggest how circumstances affect the destiny of a character. Although George Eliot’s translation of the aphorism takes the usual form of English versions of Heraclitus’s famous saying, what Novalis has his hero say is that ‘Schicksal und Gemüt Namen Eines Begriffes sind’ (literally: ‘Fate and disposition are the name of one conception’) in Heinrich von Ofterdingen (Novalis, Schriften, eds Paul Kluckholn and Richard Samuel, Stuttgart, 1960, I, 328).

I have a hunch that George Eliot is quoting and not translating. Further searching also reveals that the phrase “Character is Fate, said Novalis.” appears in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. This leads me to believe that there is an English translation of Novalis that may be the source for Eliot and for Hardy. This could be the 1827 translation by Thomas Carlyle [The bibliographic reference appears in the acknowledgements to Alteza, The Metairie Saga, Book One, by Linda Hines] … so off to the library to consult The Complete Works of Thomas Carlyle since there is a dearth of articles on the WWW about 19th century English translations of German romance (and at present no digital edition of Carlyle freely available).

And so for day 894

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