[PW] ? Jean-Baptiste Colbert Quote (Quotation Query #788)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Mon Dec 4 10:35:42 PST 2017

I researched this topic in October, and was planning to post the
results in April (for U.S. tax season). But it makes sense to quickly
share some information now, and obtain help from list members.

I pushed back the Jean-Baptiste Colbert citation to 1884.

But the research pointed to another Frenchman named Turgot who wrote a
pertinent letter to David Hume in 1766.

[ref] 1914, Reflections on the Formation and the Distribution of
Riches by Turgot, (Quotation is in appendix and not in main text),
Section: Appendix: Excerpts from Turgot's Correspondence, Letter from
Turgot to Hume on September 7, 1766, Start Page 102, Quote Page 103,
The Macmillan Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
You know, also, as well as I do, what is the great aim of all the
governments of the earth: obedience and money. The object is, as the
saying goes, to pluck the hen without making it cry out; but it is the
proprietors who cry out, and the government has always preferred to
attack them indirectly, because then they do not perceive the harm
until after the matter has become law...
[End excerpt]

The French version of the letter was published by 1849.

[ref] 1849, Letters of Eminent Persons Addressed to David Hume,
William Blackwood and Sons, Ediinburgh. [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
... vous savez aussi tout comme moi quel est le grand but de tous
gouvernemens de la terre—Soumission et argent. On cherche, comme on
dit, à plumer la poule sans la faire crier—or, ce sont les
propriétaires qui crient, et l'on a toujours mieux aimé les attaquer
indirectment, parce qu'alors ils ne s'aperçoivent du mal que quand la
chose a passé en droit...
[End excerpt]

I also found that "pluck the fowl without making it cry" seems to be a
French idiom for financial chicanery.


On Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 12:54 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
> In the Yale Book of Quotations, I included the quotation by Jean-Baptiste Colbert beginning (in translation) "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to procure ... "  I cited this from a 1919 secondary source.
> I am told by a correspondent that occurrences of this quotation in Google Books go back at least to 1888.  Can anyone help me push this back further, in either French or English?
> Fred Shapiro
> _______________________________________________
> Project Wombat - Project-wombat
> list at project-wombat.org
> http://www.project-wombat.org/

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