Two years ago, I suggested that the first use of the phrase “mad—mad I tell you” was in 1879 but invited reply from discoverers of earlier usage. The brilliant and ever-resourceful Paul Collins has risen to the challenge, and has discovered the phrase in an 1855 novel, The Old Farm House by Caroline Hyde Butler Laing.
3 thoughts on “Madness updated, or rather, backdated”
This is a great game, I love scavenger hunts! I am constitutionally suspicious of French people, so I searched for "fou je dis fou," and guess what turns up? Hamlet 2:II: "Votre noble fils est fou, je dis fou"!
(It's an 1863 translation by François-Victor Hugo, sans doute an avid reader of Caroline Hyde Butler Lain.)
The original line is, "your noble son is mad/ Mad call I it" – you know, in Polonius's crazy rap on "brevity is the soul of wit" – which is to say that "mad call I it" appears to be uttered more in the spirit of pedantry, than the "mad, I tell you!" spirit of franticness. (Unfortunately for the involved parties, the former is probably more typical of how I talk to my boyfriend.) Still, maybe it is an ancestor!
That's awesome. I remember once hearing that Scott-Moncrieff called Proust's novel "Remembrance of Things Past" because "A la recherche du temps perdu" was how some Frenchman (Hugo?) translated the phrase "remembrance of things past" in a Shakespeare sonnet. And once in my youth I tried to verify that, the old-fashioned way, in a library, but my persistence flagged.
Voltaire was the rumor I heard, as did this blogger. But I remember trying to find Voltaire's translation of Shakespeare's sonnets in the Columbia library and not succeeding.
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