Spanish otoño developed from Latin autumnus, which simultaneously evolved to Old French autompne, with an intrusive p. Middle English borrowed that as autumpne, but modern French automne and modern English autumn show that both languages ended up rejecting the non-etymological p.

Speaking of autumn, I recently came across a quotation attributed on many websites to the French writer Albert Camus. Versions that I’ve seen are:

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
“Fall is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”
“Fall is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

I got curious about the presumed French original, so I searched online and found various occurrences of “L’automne est un deuxième printemps où chaque feuille est une fleur.” [But then I also found this, which seems to have been (incorrectly) translated back into French from English: “L’automne est un deuxième ressort où chaque feuille est une fleur.” The problem with it is that ressort, like the resorte that Spanish has borrowed from it, is the kind of spring (in English) that is a metal coil, not the kind of spring that is a season.]

I searched for a good while but didn’t find a single hit, including those from printed books, that said in what work or on what occasion Camus made the statement about autumn. In the past, when I’ve come across a widely disseminated quotation that is attributed to a certain person, but never with any further source, the quotation has usually turned out to be bogus in any of several ways:

There’s no evidence that the person who is claimed to have made the statement actually made it.
Someone else made the statement.
Someone else made the statement first, and the claimed person was merely repeating or paraphrasing it.
The person who made the statement remains unknown.
The person to whom the statement is attributed did express that thought, but the quoted wording has been changed from the original.

Eventually, in spite of my skepticism, I did track down the quotation about autumn and spring and found that it’s correctly attributed to Albert Camus. It turned out to be from his 1944 play Le malentendu (The Misunderstanding), but the original is slightly different from the widely quoted version. In the play, the character Martha asks “Qu’est-ce que l’automne?” (“What is autumn?”). The character Jan replies: “Un deuxième printemps, où toutes les feuilles sont comme des fleurs.” (“A second spring, when the leaves are like flowers.”) The widely quoted version not only gloms the two sentences together but also drops the word comme (like) and the comma before it, thereby turning the original simile into a metaphor.

Although I didn’t find any earlier instance of the idea that autumn leaves are like flowers, my searching did turn up a couple of antecedents for the notion that autumn is a second spring. The first was in a British periodical called The Spectator. The issue of August 30, 1929 carried a one-paragraph article by W. Beach Thomas called “Autumn or Spring?”

Every botanist knows that autumn is a second spring, a time of germination and growth as well as of decay. Birds, too, feel this springlike sense. I had a suggestive example this week. On the evening of August 26th the thrushes sang loudly in the garden after many weeks of silence. Everyone noticed the suddenness and fullness of their lyrical outburst. The next morning we all said, ‘This is the first day of autumn.’ The peculiar scent of autumn was in the air. Almost always there is a clear and obvious first of autumn, a day when things are different and the hottest sun, or the most gorgeous roses, cannot deceive you into the belief that summer is present. A new season has begun; and almost the best in England. It is quite the best—and by a large margin—at the nearest point across the Atlantic. If you want to taste autumn’s perfection, or at any rate relative perfection, the place to go to is Newfoundland, where along with a delicious air you may enjoy a supreme glory of colouring, especially in the low berry bushes, that everywhere prevail.”

The second antecedent was in the book Cours de Philosophie Générale (Course in General Philosophy), by H. Azaïs, published in Paris in 1824 by Auguste Boulland et Cie. A passage about the molting of birds—again, birds—on page 233 of Volume 5 includes this:

…l’automne est un second printemps, moins fécond néanmoins….
…autumn is a second spring, though a less fecund one….

And from this autumn of life let me close with a bit of irony. My memory may be less fecund than it once was, because when I finally came across the reference to Camus’s play Le malentendu, I didn’t remember what it was about. I looked at an online plot summary and suddenly realized that I had read the entire play in the original French about 50 years ago in a drama class, but I had almost no recollection of it, including its thought that autumn is a second spring.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    Nov 15, 2015 @ 10:22:33

    I suspect this memory will not escape you again after doing all that work. You’ve made many interconnections in your brain cells. Speaking of brains, have you been watching http://video.iptv.org/program/brain-david-eagleman/ on PBS?


  2. Maria F.
    Nov 18, 2015 @ 08:11:35

    “Fall” is the direct result of translating Camus. The same happened with the Bible. The Bible has The English Standard Version (ESV) which many don’t like because the KJV offers a much more natural English, preserving some of the more older words.

    Look at what an interesting Pie Chart I found:

    Latin and Romance (mainly French and Italian) influence in English reach 58% of the total vocabulary


  3. shoreacres
    Nov 21, 2015 @ 17:16:24

    I recently mentioned my affection for the word “confluence.” Your use of it in reference to Bull Creek had reminded me of a piece that’s been languishing in my files for years. It begins, “Of all the astonishments life can provide, ‘I never knew,’ and ‘I had forgotten’ are two of the most powerful. When these streams of consciousness begin to flood, and flow together, their confluence can sweep away everything in their path.”

    I bring that up now because of a strange coincidence. The title of that piece is, “Simple Gifts of a Second Spring.” My premise is that, even in human life, a second spring is possible. We usually speak as if there’s only one cycle and that, once we hit autumn, it’s all downhill. But perhaps not.

    Beyond all that, on last week’s trip to the Brazoria refuge, I found what may be the last primrose of summer.
    It certainly does seem to represent a second spring.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 21, 2015 @ 22:51:44

      It’s quite a coincidence (confluence?) that you should have written about a second spring. It sounds as if you haven’t run across any of the online versions of the Camus quotation, or else you might have been prompted to go back to the piece in your files. Perhaps now that you’re aware of those online occurrences (assuming you weren’t before) you’ll feel called to finish the post you started. Let’s hope so.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 21, 2015 @ 22:55:24

      As for the pink evening primrose, I saw occasional stragglers in Austin during the summer and into the fall. I don’t know if that’s because of the unusual amount of rain or if there are stragglers every year and we just haven’t noticed.


  4. Heyjude
    Feb 02, 2016 @ 18:59:59

    Thanks for the link Steve, very interesting – I should have known you’d have a word blog 😀


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 02, 2016 @ 20:50:53

      I started this one the year before the nature photography one (which attracts many more people, as you might expect).


      • Heyjude
        Feb 03, 2016 @ 06:20:57

        I had a quick browse around this site and it looks interesting even though I don’t speak Spanish, but I did Latin and French and German a looong time ago at school. The Latin helps in lots of ways 🙂


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Feb 03, 2016 @ 08:01:10

          Speaking of a looong time ago, the order in which you list the languages you studied coincides with the order in which I encountered them in high school: Latin beginning in 9th grade (age 15), French beginning in 10th grade, and a solo year of German in 11th grade. You’re right that the Latin and French facilitated the Spanish that came later—and with English as well.


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