S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.


  • [George, Count de Buffon, an illustrious French naturalist and philosopher; born in Burgundy, 1707; appointed intendant of the Royal Garden, 1739; member of the Academy, 1753; died 1788.]
  • The style is the man himself.

  • In his reception address at the French Academy, Buffon said that “only well-written works would descend to posterity. Fulness of knowledge, interesting facts, even useful inventions, are no pledges of immortality, for they may be employed by more skilful hands: they are outside the man, the style is the man himself” (ces choses sont hors de l’homme, le style est l’homme même). Maupertuis wrote to Frederick the Great, Nov. 19, 1745: “Wit belongs to man; style, to the author. One may almost judge of the fortune of authors by reading their works;” and Goethe says, “A writer’s style is the counter-proof of his character.” Pope declares that “nothing is more foolish than to pretend to know a great writer by his style.” Chesterfield, writing to his son (1749), calls style “the dress of thought.” Isaac Disraeli, speaking of the literary character of men of genius, says that an author can have nothing truly his own but his style: an author’s diction cannot be taken from him. Fénelon, before Buffon’s time, called a man’s style “nearly as much a part of him as his physiognomy, his figure, the beating of his pulse,—in short, as any part of his being which is least subjected to the action of the will.”
  • In Buffon’s case the aphorism suited the man. His character, habits, even his physique, resembled his style. “His manners were distinguished, his tastes magnificent, his carriage noble; and all corresponded to the beauty of his images, the amplitude of his periods, the harmony and majesty of his expressions. He justified the inscription upon the statue erected to him in his lifetime, ‘Majestate naturæ par ingenium’” (a genius equalled by natural majesty). To some one who spoke to Voltaire of Buffon’s “Natural History,” “Not so natural,” rejoined the poet. His manner of writing, with his hands enclosed in lace ruffles, made les manchettes de Buffon a proverbial expression for an ornate style. Grimm said Montesquieu had “the style of a genius; Buffon, the genius of style;” and a witty woman remarked, that the naturalist sometimes renounced the spirit of his age, but never its pomps.
  • Genius is only great patience (Le génie n’est autre chose qu’une grande aptitude à la patience.)

  • Carlyle wrote that genius is only an immense capacity for taking trouble. Dr. Johnson’s definition was, “Genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction.”