Otoño

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

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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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